Skip to main content

Cost of diapers a big problem for poor moms

By Joanne Samuel Goldblum, Special to CNN
May 10, 2013 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
A diaper-clad baby crawls across a 10-foot mat during a baby race in New York. The first prize was a year's supply of diapers.
A diaper-clad baby crawls across a 10-foot mat during a baby race in New York. The first prize was a year's supply of diapers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joanne Goldblum: Poor moms re-use diapers because they can't afford new ones
  • Food stamps don't pay for disposables, she says, cloth diapers impossible option
  • Goldblum set up a diaper bank, but it hardly meets the enormous demand
  • She says a federal program must solve this small, but real, problem

Editor's note: Joanne Samuel Goldblum is the executive director of the National Diaper Bank Network. She is also the founder of the Diaper Bank and a former clinical faculty member at Yale Child Study Center Family Support Service.

(CNN) -- We mothers spend a lot of time saying, "I love you." We don't always use words: it can be wrapping that squeaky-clean baby in a fluffy towel or warming up cider for the kid who comes in wet and cold after playing in the snow.

Childhood is full of times when mom made us feel cared for and comfortable. But imagine the difficulty for a mother who doesn't have the resources to keep her infant warm and dry.

Although I spent much of my career working with chronically homeless families, it took a long time to realize just how deep their deprivation was. Finally a woman named Angie set me straight when she dumped out the solids and put a used diaper back on her baby. I explained how unhealthy this was. Angie told me she couldn't afford diapers. I urged her to buy more diapers with her food stamps. Angie told me she couldn't do that.

She was right: Food stamps can't be used to buy diapers. Mothers cannot get diapers from a major federal source of support for poor families, the Women Infants and Children Program, either. There was nowhere for Angie to turn. The impracticality of cloth diapers became obvious: She didn't have a washer, and her local laundry wouldn't allow her to wash diapers in their machines.

Joanne Samuel Goldblum
Joanne Samuel Goldblum

So Angie's baby was stuck in wet, dirty diapers. Angie was stuck, too. She needed job training and employment if her family was ever going to climb out of poverty. In order to get either of those, she needed child care. Most child-care providers, however, require parents to supply disposable diapers. Angie couldn't buy diapers unless she got a job, and she couldn't get a job unless she had diapers.

I spent a lot of time railing about the unfairness of it all until my husband suggested that we could "just do it." We roped in some friends to help us buy diapers at the local warehouse club and deliver them to agencies that served low-income families. The demand was enormous. The organization soon moved from our dining room to a warehouse and now distributes clean diapers to 2,500 children a month.

That means the world to my own community, but all across the country there are Angies who need help. Last year, I started the National Diaper Bank Network, to help diaper banks start and thrive nationwide. I'm enormously proud of the people I work with, who do so much good.

But it is not enough. It will take 6.57 billion diapers to keep every American baby living in poverty clean and dry this year. That's based on 3 million children under age 3 living in poverty in the United States, and a conservative six changes a day.

Diaper banks tend to be small, often all-volunteer organizations. The scale of the response does not match the enormity of the need.

If we are to attack the problem, the first step is to acknowledge it. In my experience, when people learn about diaper need, they want to help. I can think of no better time than Mother's Day to talk about it. There are many ways this could be dealt with from a policy perspective -- through the Women Infants and Children program, the SNAP program, Child Care Subsidies, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- the list goes on.

We wrestle with all sorts of policy questions about the achievement gap, intergenerational poverty and the like. They are serious questions that deserve long and deep discussion. But let's add this small -- but serious -- issue to the conversation.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joanne Goldlblum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT