What Will Happen to a Bill Designed to Help Low Income Families Purchase Diapers?

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Almost 1/3 of mothers have reported finding themselves in a situation where they were unable to afford diapers for their children. Unfortunately, the majority of safety net programs in place to help low-income mothers do not cover this expense.

In California, this may soon no longer be a problem for low-income mothers. Penned by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D), AB 1516 is the first bill in the country that would provide assistance for welfare recipients to pay for diapers. Families with children, under the age of two, that qualify for CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program, would be entitled to $80 a month for diapers. This would assist an estimated 120,000 children. In May, it passed the Assembly 55 to 23. Currently, it’s now in the Senate committee.

It is thought that a program of this caliber would cost an estimated $119 million a year. However, supporters argue that the cost would be lower because it would allow low-income parents to work more. Currently, most child care centers require that a parent provide disposable diapers for their children. Those who cannot afford to supply diapers end up having to stay at home with their children instead.

No Assembly Republicans voted in favor of the bill arguing that the high price, as well as the potential for fraud without any surefire plan in place to make sure the money goes to diapers, makes it implausible.

Gonzalez states that the primary reason for the bill is to increase awareness about the issues low-income mothers face. In the event the bill does fail, she states she will rewrite it and reintroduce the next year.

For low-income families, diapers are a significant cost. Typically, a family spends around $18 per week, or $936 a year, on diapers. This is the equivalent of 6 percent of a single parent’s gross pay, if he or she works a full-time minimum wage job. While cloth diapers can be reused, most daycare centers refuse to accept them and laundromats will not allow parents to wash them in their facilities. Currently, Food Stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) cannot be used to purchase diapers. Diapers are grouped with alcohol, cigarettes, and pet food. While Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) does allow recipients to purchase diapers, this is usually a very minimal amount of money. In addition, very few families qualify for these benefits. Currently, there are fewer than 100 diaper banks in the United States to help poor families with the diapers they need.

When a parent is in a situation where they cannot afford diapers, there are minimal options. Eight percent attempt to stretch diapers when their supply is low. This can compromise a child’s health. Wet diapers increase the risk of diaper dermatitis and infections, leading to increased doctor and emergency room visits. Ten percent get them from an agency, while another ten percent try to borrow diapers or the money to buy them from friends and family.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of this bill.

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