When Policies Don’t Cover Pampers

By: Tara Fish | May 2020

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As a mother of two and a local Director of a Smart Start Partnership, I have always found myself with my finger on the pulse of what resources local families and children in Harnett County need.  Every day, even before the pandemic began, I hear about families who are hungry, lack school supplies, and don’t have quality and affordable child care.

It takes a lot to rattle me. But last year, when a mother of twin boys recently told me that she was using plastic grocery bags and washcloths in place of diapers, I was brought to a standstill.

After doing some research, I learned that government assistance programs like WIC and SNAP do not cover the cost of diapers for families with limited resources. In fact, there weren’t any resources for families in our community that would help them purchase basic baby hygiene items.

The Bare Bottom Facts

  • 1 in 3 babies in North Carolina lacks adequate diapering supplies.
  • Children who are not diapered appropriately are prone to UTI’s, secondary skin infections and sometimes require hospitalizations.  
  • TANF is the only federal assistance program that can help cover diaper expenses but has to cover many other expenses, including utilities, rent, transportation, and other basic needs.
  • Learn more from a National Diaper Bank fact sheet here.

Providing diapers and basic hygiene for babies costs an average of $80 a month. Further research shows that meeting this need for families would decrease other costs including health care costs for the state. We also found direct links between the lack of adequate diapering, chronic crying, and higher rates of maltreatment like shaken baby syndrome.  

As I began talking to local social workers and DSS, I learned that many social workers, understanding the importance of this issue, had been buying diapers for families out of their own pockets. Young children who came into DSS custody almost never came with essential items like diapers, and the funding wasn’t there.

Baby Steps Forward

In March 2019, the Harnett County Partnership for Children partnered with local donors and grantmakers to launch our Baby Steps program. Baby Steps provides basic infant and toddler essentials like diapers, wipes, thermometers, safety gates, car seats and pack ‘n plays to families in need.

To date, we have served more than 300 Harnett County families and provided over 15,000 diapers to children. With the COVID-19 pandemic we now see more families than ever who are stretched financially. Parents and caregivers who were once able to afford diapers and wipes with their paychecks, have lost income and are forced to make difficult decisions of where their limited resources go.

Every Family Deserves Basic Necessities

If you were shocked, like I was, that assistance programs designed to support families didn’t cover basic necessities like diapers and wipes, I invite you to join me in both advocating for policy change and supporting families in need today.

Supplemental programs like SNAP and WIC are already facing huge budget challenges and are administered through the Department of Agriculture. Rather than expanding these programs, Congresswomen Lee and DeLauro introduced federal legislation last year to create a $100 million demonstration program for distributing free diapers and diapering products in states, communities. Learn more at National Diaper Bank Network’s website.

In the meantime, local programs in NC need your support. NC Diaper Bank serves several locations across the state and is in need of additional donations and volunteers. And local Partnerships for Children, like ours, are starting their own diaper banks to fill this important need. Look up your nearest Smart Start program to ask about ways you can help local families during this difficult crisis. And to support our work here in Harnett County, please contact us for opportunities.


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