Posted by Ellen Jawitz

A baby getting his diaper changed.

As the Family Resource Coordinator at the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support®, I have the privilege of working one-on-one with participant families who need help accessing public benefits, housing, and other resources. While my work is focused on providing these types of direct services, I think it is equally important to tackle the systemic issues that impact low-income families. So, when my colleague Maureen Whitman told me about the new Diaper Benefits Pilot Program bills being considered by the Massachusetts Legislature, I jumped at the chance to testify in support of them.

On July 16, 2019, I spoke in front of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. I advocated for House Bill 107 and Senate Bill 65, which would establish a pilot program to give grants to organizations for the purpose of obtaining, storing, and distributing free diapers to low-income families.

The Need for Diapers

When I first started working at CERS six years ago, one of the most frequent requests I received was for help with diapers. For many low-income families, having an adequate supply of diapers is an insurmountable hurdle.

Diapers are expensive, and they are even more expensive for low-income families who don’t have access to big box stores that sell them in large quantities at a discount. Unfortunately, SNAP benefits (known as “food stamps”) can’t be used to purchase diapers. While cloth reusable diapers can be a good way to save money, they aren’t a viable option unless a family has their own washer and dryer. Needless to say, most of the people who can’t afford diapers also can’t afford in-home laundry. Even more importantly, children can’t be sent to day care with cloth diapers, and so parents without an adequate supply of disposable diapers may not be able to return to work or attend school.

When families don’t have enough diapers, parents may try to stretch the time between diaper changes, but this causes tremendous discomfort and puts the baby at risk of serious infection. Faced with this problem, many families buy diapers and fall behind on other bills – including utilities and rent. This can become a major source of stress for parents, who then pass this stress on to their children.

Addressing the Need for Our Clients

At JF&CS, we have worked hard to develop our own in-house diaper supply, so we can improve the health and emotional well-being of the babies and parents we work with. We have been fortunate to partner with Diaper Circle and other local organizations that collect diapers for distribution to families in need. CERS accepts open packages of diapers from local nursery schools and seeks out donations to buy diapers in bulk at a low cost.

When one of our staff shows up at a client’s house with diapers, the effect is remarkable. A parent who has been worrying about changing her baby’s soiled diaper now knows that she doesn’t have to worry about this for another couple of weeks. What a difference this can make for parents and babies!

Expanding Access to Diaper Pantries

Unfortunately, there are only a handful of diaper pantries in Greater Boston, and most of them are only available to residents of specific towns. Some of the pantries actually exclude families who receive cash assistance. Even for those families who are eligible, the pantries are open one day per month for limited hours, and they typically provide only 30 diapers per child, per month. The average baby goes through 6-8 diapers per day, so 30 diapers will last no more than 5 days.

The new bills sponsored by Representative Mindy Domb, Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, and Senator Joan Lovely would be a game-changer for low-income families with young children. The legislation would establish a one-year Diaper Benefits Pilot Program that provides money for up to 12 organizations to distribute free diapers. I hope that my testimony before the Joint Committee helped to provide context for lawmakers as they evaluate this important legislation.

Remember Diapers This Giving Tuesday

While the Diaper Benefits Pilot Program bills are still under consideration, there is something you can do to help get more diapers into the hands of low-income parents. This Giving Tuesday (December 3), JF&CS will be raising money to stock our in-house diaper supply. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and stay tuned for the latest updates on our Giving Tuesday fundraiser!