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Diapers and Poverty

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It’s great that San Francisco is developing the nation’s first government-run diaper bank for poor families. It’s totally ridiculous that this is not a national program or that we don’t see diapers as a human right for children.

Government benefits have extremely restrictive spending rules that can place challenging limitations on beneficiaries. Diapers are classified like cigarettes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”), one of the primary resources for low-income families in the United States. While cash benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can be used at the beneficiary’s discretion, most families sink those resources into housing and other critical needs — like menstruation supplies, which are also not covered by SNAP. That leaves them struggling to afford diapers, especially when paychecks have dwindled down at the end of the month.

5.3 million children in the United States live in poverty, and 33 percent of families report “diaper need,” a shortage of diapers at some point during the year. Toddlers typically need approximately eight diapers daily, while infants can require 12 or more. That’s a lot of diapers, and for many low-income people, predatory merchants overcharge them, knowing that diaper purchases are a critical life necessity. Corner stores and other establishments in low-income neighborhoods, already famous for inflated prices, charge $0.50 or more per diaper, in comparison with prices much lower than that at discount and warehouse stores which low-income families can’t access because they may be out of reach of public transit or inconvenient to get to — or it may be too hard to bring supplies back along a meandering assortment of public transit transfers. Affording an economy pack can also be a barrier, as it may not be possible to spend a large amount of money all at once even with a per-diaper cost savings.

Leaving children in wet diapers comes with health risks like rashes, inflammation and infection. A dry baby is a happy baby not just because wet diapers are uncomfortable, but because they’re dangerous, and many low-income parents are forced to watch their children suffer because they can’t change their diapers often enough. San Francisco’s diaper bank aims to change that, sinking nearly $500,000 annually into diaper assistance for parents who are already on CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program. Parents can show up to distribution centers to request diapers in a range of sizes for their children.

You’d think that anti-abortion activists would rally around this and promote this as a national policy. They care about babies, right? Oh yeah, actual human babies they don’t care about at all. Instead, it’s those heathen atheists in hippie California who are doing something for real life humans.

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