"Diaper need" is the term advocates use when families can't afford enough diapers to keep their children clean, dry, and healthy.
One in three California families struggle with diaper need.
Diapers can cost around $80 per child per month, so some families end up reusing dirty diapers, or leaving wet diapers on for too long. And that can lead to discomfort, chronic health problems, and stress, and it can cause a costly downward spiral, said Katherine Snider with Good+ Foundation.
"Families who are reusing disposable diapers, the child gets chronic diaper rash, then they have to bring the child to the doctor, which, of course, creates kind of a terrible cycle for families who can’t take time off," Snider said. "This is when this gets into a bigger poverty and social welfare issue that we all need to be talking about."
California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher is talking about it. She's written several pieces of legislation over the last three years in which she's tried to address diaper need. Her current bill, AB 480, would add diapers to the category of expenses that can be reimbursed for families who participate in the CalWORKS welfare-to-work program.
These families need the help urgently, said Fletcher, because most childcare centers won’t take babies without a pack of diapers. No diapers, no daycare, and then no job.
"It really is an investment," Fletcher said, "because if we know if a woman can get a job, can get back on her feet, can get off of public assistance, that helps the state as well, so spending a little bit of money on the front end helps on the back end."
Fletcher has also pushed legislation that would cut the tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products. The governor vetoed one bill. Another – which would have taxed liquor, instead -- was killed in the assembly a few weeks ago. But Fletcher says she's undaunted. "The bottom line is we’re going to keep coming back with these bills until we really tackle the issue," she said.
"Diapers are a necessity, and they’re a very expensive necessity," Fletcher added. She urged people who haven't thought about the cost of diapers to do so.
"I encourage you to just go to the grocery store next time and look at the cost of diapers and realize that families are spending a few hundred dollars a month on diapers," she said. "And that becomes quite a cost for a young family whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or whether you’re middle class."