Diapers Are a Necessity, and Helping Working Families Afford Them Is One Too

When I joined the Assembly, one of the first issues I started working on was making diapers more affordable and accessible to parents. The lack of sufficient supply of diapers to keep an infant or toddler clean, dry, and healthy has ripple effects through the community, and with nearly 5.3 million babies in the U.S. age three or younger living in poor or low-income families, and one third of infants and toddlers with at least one parent working full time living in low-income families, it's a problem that demands real action.

We know diaper need is a serious, widespread problem, but while our existing government support programs work around the edges to define the problem, we still don't actually address it. California alone is home to about 2.5 million children under age five. One third live in single parent households, and the number of low income working families with children is more than one-in-five and rising. Medicaid currently covers over 1/3 of all births in the U.S. each year, and perhaps not surprisingly 1 in 3 U.S. moms report suffering from diaper need.

We have programs like CalFresh and CalWORKs to support low-income families, but despite being a clear necessity, direct diaper assistance remains 100% non-governmental. Low-income parents have to rely on a network of diaper banks, food banks, social service agencies, community and faith based groups, because government assistance programs like food stamps and CalFresh do not cover diapers. Unfortunately, this blind spot is getting worse.

California's cost of living continues to rise, especially for low-income families, and everyday necessities of life like diapers are expensive. Diapers cost anywhere from $72 to $100 per child every month, adding up quickly for those struggling to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, California's formula for calculating the income limit making families eligible for subsidized child care and preschool has been falling over the last decade relative to the state's median income. As a result, families are disqualified for subsidized child care at a lower income than in the past. According to the California Budget and Policy Center, that means a single mother of two would have to spend 70% of her income to cover the full cost of child care.

Diaper need impacts not just economics, but the physical and mental well-being of children and parents. Parents who lack diapers may change diapers less often or reuse disposable diapers, putting their children at risk for preventable medical problems while generating unnecessary medical costs and pulling parents away from work for doctor visits.

It's also well established that children who participate in early childhood education are almost three times more likely to go on to higher education. But without providing the six to 10 diapers they need each day, babies cannot participate in early childhood education programs. In most cases, parents who can't provide diapers are shut out of daycare options altogether, not only making it extremely difficult to provide a good start for their child early in life, but making it even harder to rejoin the workforce.

I've raised two kids myself as a single mom, so I know the financial and logistical strain this issue creates for parents. And the country understands this too: 95% of Americans strongly agree that clean diapers are a basic need for children, and 97% agree that clean diapers are as important as shelter and food.

If we want family support programs like those offered by CalWORKs to be effective, we have to ensure that parents are in a position to take advantage of the help that's available. That's why I have authored two legislative approaches to relieving California's working families of diaper need.

Assembly Bill 717 would exempt diapers from sales tax like in seven other states, a simple bit of financial relief for new parents that can add up to the cost of a full month of diapers annually. While the policy isn't explicitly need-based in the same way as the CalWORKs voucher in Assembly Bill 492 that I have also authored, we all agree sales tax is an extremely regressive tax that impacts working families the hardest, costing them upwards of $100 annually on diapers alone.

AB 492 provides vouchers to specifically help make diapers more affordable for parents trying to get back to work. This proposal would make sure California's kids are on track for success early, and that parents have every opportunity to get back to work to provide for their families. We're beginning our 2016 efforts this week as the Assembly Committee on Human Services considers AB 492 to finally address diaper need in California, and I hope you'll be with us.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez serves as Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Women in the Workplace and represents the 80th Assembly District, which includes Chula Vista, National City and the San Diego neighborhoods of City Heights, Barrio Logan, Paradise Hills, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa. For more information, visit