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
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT