It’s not yet clear if the forms of economic activity resuming in most states will quickly reduce the nation’s high unemployment rates, but one thing is certain: it won’t happen without diapers. Most child care operators will not accept a baby or toddler unless parents supply disposable diapers. This has always been a barrier to employment for families in poverty. Pre-COVID-19, one in five U.S families reported missing work or school because they lacked the diapers required to leave their baby in child care. As so many people experience losses of income, that barrier becomes far more common.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is urging Congress to fund diaper assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. The National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) has been working behind the scenes to urge elected officials to take this step, because we know the economic and health consequences to children and families unable to access diapers. Even before the pandemic, the leaders of this effort, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa were strong advocates for the one in three U.S. families who cannot afford an adequate supply of diapers for their children. Everyone at NDBN is grateful to the senators and to the bipartisan group that joined them in the request.
Of course, that one in three number quantifies diaper need in ordinary times, which these obviously are not. As unemployment rose, and parents around the country lost wages because of the crisis, NDBN’s 200-plus member diaper banks working in local communities have reported skyrocketing demand for help. Programs have been organizing drive-through diaper distributions as the number of families seeking help triples in some communities.
The senators are promoting diaper assistance through a $200 million Social Services Block Grant in the next emergency recovery package. Diaper banks would use that money to procure and distribute more diapers, which they sorely need to do.
Public programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children Food and Nutrition Service (WIC) cannot be used to purchase diapers. The only game in town is usually the local diaper bank, which relies heavily on donations and volunteer help. In 2019, NDBN members provided children and families with nearly 80 million donated diapers. While that represents an amazing amount of work and donor generosity, a recent study found that relying on philanthropy alone only meets 4% of national diaper need. And remember: that’s diaper need in ordinary times, not during a global pandemic. The scale of diaper need is so great that the philanthropic community, even with the support of the business community, cannot meet it alone. Government is the only entity large enough to end diaper need, and it always has been.
Diapers cost about $80 per month, per child. For a family on a tight budget, that creates an impossible choice: “Do we buy diapers or food?” A study of clients served by the Diaper Bank of Connecticut found that most families receiving diaper assistance included working adults, but too many jobs in the U.S. do not pay a living wage. Diaper need especially affects workers who, during the pandemic, are finally being recognized as essential: people who keep nursing homes and grocery stores running; people working in shipping depots and making deliveries; people who do the cleaning and restock the shelves. The least we can do for these workers, as they provide these tremendous services that keep our country running, is make sure that their children have diapers.
During the time of COVID-19, we have all frequently heard variations of the sentiment “We’re all in this together.” That idea is made real by people with 3D printers pulling all-nighters to make PPE for strangers, by ad-hoc relief funds springing up for displaced workers, and by the many calls the staff at NDBN field from people asking, “How can I help?”
When it comes to diaper need, you can check out the National Diaper Bank Network and find your local diaper bank. The Daily Kos Community has already generously supported our efforts through the Daily Kos COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. You can also join us on Twitter at @diapernetwork on July 1 and contact your members of Congress to let them know that you support diaper assistance for families impacted by the pandemic and beyond. Visit the #EndDiaperNeed hashtag to follow along.
More than anything, remember how you feel right now. Remember your intense concern about your neighbor’s well-being, and never let go of that.
For people who live in poverty, every day brings crises, even in the best of times. There are myriad ways we need to remake the world so that this will not be so. Diapers are a small and absolutely doable way to start.
Joanne Samuel Goldblum is CEO of the National Diaper Bank Network.
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