To Address Child Poverty, Let’s Start with a Clean Diaper

Federal Budget
Poverty & Family Economics

EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest post can also be found on the Voices for Kids Medium publication

A clean diaper is among the most basic needs of every infant and toddler, as essential as food, shelter, medicine and love. A clean diaper is a fundamental building block for safeguarding the physical, mental, and economic well-being of children and their families.

Yet, one in three American families reports struggling to provide an adequate supply of diapers for their baby—a condition known as “diaper need,”—a hidden consequence of poverty.

The United States falls woefully short when it comes to ensuring access to clean diapers for all children, and especially the 5.2 million, aged 3 or younger, who live in poor or low-wage families.

Babies who remain too long in a soiled diaper are exposed to potential health risks, including urinary tract infections and severe diaper dermatitis. Most all child care centers, even free and subsidized facilities, require parents to provide a daily supply of disposable diapers to care for a baby. Without child care, parents cannot go to work or school.

Currently, no federal safety net program aimed at reducing child poverty— including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)—provides funding specifically for the purchase of diapers. Both SNAP and WIC are food-based nutrition programs that should not be expanded to include nonfood, material basic needs, such as diapers. Many struggling families must choose between purchasing diapers, at a cost of $70 – $80 per month per child, or buying food or paying the electric bill. No parent, grandparent or caregiver should face such a decision.

Fortunately, a growing movement—led by the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) and its more than 320-member local diaper bank programs in 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Guam—is committed to helping families obtain diapers. In fact, last year the Network distributed more than 52 million donated diapers to struggling families. The diaper bank community is comprised of a uniquely diverse group of community-based advocates, from all walks of life, who are united in the belief that all babies deserve clean diapers. Just as a food banks are a reliable source of support for families in need, diaper banks provide a basic need for families in crisis.

Diaper bank leaders are in Washington, D.C., today, to meet with their elected officials and talk about why small things, like diapers, impact big things like child and family well-being in
their respective communities. They are also requesting support for the Hygiene Assistance for Families of Infants and Toddlers Act of 2017, H.B. 1143. Introduced by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), with the support of more than 240 organizations, as part of a federal grant program proposed under the federal Public Health Services Act, the bill would allocate new funding ($25 million) to allow states to develop diaper distribution demonstration programs to determine the best way to address diaper need in local communities.

Such funding could spur the creation of new public/private partnerships, such as the highly successful venture between the Westchester County Executive’s office (New York), the Westchester County Department of Social Services and the Junior League of Central Westchester. The trio combined efforts to establish the Westchester County Diaper Bank. The Junior League operates the diaper bank and its volunteers collect and repackage donated diapers, which then are distributed at no cost to families in need through the district offices of the Department of Social Services.

In addition, state legislatures throughout the country, currently, are considering a variety of options to help struggling families access diapers including: direct support of state diaper banks; clarifying regulations to allow diapers to be included in existing nonfood assistance programs; and providing direct assistance specifically for diapers to families in need, among others.

In America today, millions of infants and toddlers are less comfortable, less safe and less likely to prosper in the long-term because they are sitting in wet, soiled diapers, because of a consequence of poverty, the lack of a clean diaper.

They need a change.

Joanne Goldblum is the Chief Executive Officer for the National Diaper Bank Network, which works to meet the basic needs of all American children and families by focusing on diaper need.

  • Learn about the Hygiene Assistance for Families of Infants and Toddles Act of 2017.
  • Read the letter signed by the First Focus Campaign for Children endorsing this bill.  
  • For more information on reducing poverty in the U.S., visit