Diapers Not Eligible for Food Stamps? Crazy!

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baby diapers(WOMENSENEWS)–Efforts to subsidize diapers are not exactly a hot topic of conversation among mommy bloggers, social service providers or health professionals.

But there is an emerging "diaper rights" movement that is mobilizing to get more diapers into the hands of more parents–and on the behinds of more babies and toddlers. And I’m all for it.

An adequate supply of disposable diapers costs hundreds–even thousands–of dollars a year, a cost that is simply too high for millions of low-income parents across the country. This is especially true for single mothers, who are most likely to be in extreme poverty. To afford diapers, 1-in-3 mothers–a disproportionate number of whom are African American and Latino–have had to cut back on basic necessities like food, heat, electricity and even child care, according to study commissioned this year by Huggies diapers.

While I’m a huge supporter of diaper-changing dads (turns out I married one!), the study focuses only on moms because, let’s face it, they’ve done the lion’s–or lioness’s– share of diaper-changing over the last few millennia.

Obviously Huggies has a commercial interest in hyping the inadequate supply of diapers, but the study does make a valid point: All children deserve fresh clean diapers. A lack of diapers can lead to problems ranging from diaper rash to infection. These health ailments can cause more crying, which some say puts babies at greater risk of physical abuse.

Moms Suffer Too

It’s also a detriment to moms; the study found that some mothers who cannot afford an adequate supply of diapers say they’ve had to miss work because most child care centers require a day’s worth of diapers. They lose out on income, putting diapers even further out of reach.

Mothers in need of diapers also feel guilty, stressed and frustrated. One-third of U.S. mothers feel like "bad mothers" when they are not able to change their children out of a dirty diaper, according to the study.

Cloth diapers, unfortunately, aren’t a realistic option for many low-income moms. Personal washers and dryers are bulky and expensive, and coin-operated machines eat quarters like so much popcorn. And with a bag of soiled linens in one hand and a child (or two or four) in the other, Laundromats can be pretty tough to get to for new–and older–moms.

Unfortunately it wouldn’t make a dime of difference if Laundromats were less expensive and more accessible. Most licensed day care centers refuse to change cloth diapers, so most working parents are essentially required to go the disposable route if they have any hope of holding down a job.

Government Help Unavailable

Allison StevensDespite all this, low-income parents cannot count on any kind of help from the government to ensure their kids are clean and healthy.

The federal government actually bars food-stamp beneficiaries from using subsidies to purchase diapers and other hygienic products.

Both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (informally known as the food-stamp program) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (often called WIC) are run by the Department of Agriculture and only allow beneficiaries to use subsidies to purchase formula, food and drink. (Where exactly do they think all that stuff ends up?)

Diapers and other hygienic products–toilet paper, household cleaning products and personal cleaning supplies like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and shampoo–are also off limits.

So how do you stay clean? How do you put out the trash? And just how do you manage menstruation, since feminine hygiene products, like diapers, are also expensive and off limits under food-stamp programs?

Local and regional diaper donation groups are sprouting up all across the country and are advocating for policy change, including government subsidies for hygiene products.

Meanwhile, Huggies is donating up to 20 million diapers to diaper banks throughout the United States, and 2.5 million diapers to facilities in Canada, in the coming months.

The bottom line? Every infant and toddler deserves to be clean and healthy. Let’s hope this diaper-for-all movement manages to kick some butt!

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Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C.

For more information:

The Diaper Bank:

5 thoughts on “Diapers Not Eligible for Food Stamps? Crazy!

  1. When I saw the header, I automatically thought of cloth diapers. As I read through, you explained about women not having washing machines and costs with laundromats being too expensive… I understand these issues, but where do we draw the line? Where there’s a will there’s a way. Even if it means wahing diapers by hand! We already are burdened with high taxes. This will just add to it. Also, unfortunately, many people take advantage of food stamps for buying junk food, alcohol, and cigarettes! Too many women AND girls have babies, that shouldn’t! Women should realize that we aren’t animals and we are not men, we can get pregnant and should watch our sexual practices.

  2. People on food stamps can get help with non-food hygienic items. Food stamps customers are to be treated just like regular paying customers, so stores that have “rewards” programs that give back $$ off coupons can be used to buy those items. For example, if a store has a promotion to buy $12 in Coke products and get back $4 to use off your next order, you can use the $4 toward diapers. Pair that with a manufacturer’s coupon and diapers can be gotten for $4 or less. Sometimes you even get rewards for buying the diapers as well, and can use those to purchase other items. CVS, RiteAid, and Walgreens are among those stores that have such reward programs. Combining coupons with these offers results in the best deals. Coupons can also be used to stretch the food stamp money used for groceries as well.

  3. In Sarasota, FL, where I live, there is a chapter of Baby Basics, a nationwide organization that provides free diapers to needy parents of children up to the age of three. Our nearby community of Bradenton, FL, does not, however, have a similar chapter. I don’t know how many there are in the US.

    Baby Basics has a website.


    Sonia Pressman Fuentes

  4. As the Executive Director of a new diaper bank in Minnesota, I want to comment on the cloth vs. disposable diaper debate. Starting a diaper bank is NOT a political or social statement of any sort. It in no way expresses a disapproval of cloth. In fact, I am very PRO-cloth. By starting a diaper bank, my husband and I are on a mission to HELP some people who otherwise would be going without. Doing cloth diapers has a steep learning curve to it, and takes time and energy that many of these struggling families do not have. To top it off, laundry facilities are sometimes a busline away or not available at all, and leaks are much more prevailant.

    Please do not criticize a movement that is simply to provide for babies and families in need. It is easy to judge unless you’ve been there.

  5. I added up the cost of disposables when I discovered that I was pregnant. So I got several yards of extra wide cotton flannel from the remnants bins & made 2-ply ones myself(rough hourglass shape), about 3+ dozen (about 3/yd of material) & used them for home & night use…so I saved the expensive disposables for daycare where there was no alternative.

    They lasted much better than the commercial cloth ones, so that I used most of them for my second child as well, then passed them on to friends…