Not unlike its impact on the lumber supply or the cost of groceries, the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the difficulty many low-income parents face in being able to access and afford diapers for their children, legislators and advocates for needy families testified Monday.
The need, according to advocates, has impacts beyond the obvious desire for parents to be able to put their children in clean, dry diapers, and to keep them healthy. It can also factor into whether parents put their children in daycare and return to work, since most daycare centers require parents to provide at least a day’s supply of diapers. Rep. Christina Minicucci told the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on Monday that she remembers the “sticker shock” of having to buy diapers for the first time when she had the first of her three children.
“It’s not rare to find parents who have to reuse disposable diapers or come up with alternate methods to keep their kids dry,” Minicucci said. The North Andover representative added she knows what it’s like to struggle with expenses as a young family. She said she and her husband had to move in with her mother at one point when they both lost their jobs.
The Committee heard testimony on bills that propose a greater role for the state in helping ensure that diaper pantries and other community providers that distribute diapers to needy families have the resources they need to meet the demand.
Reps. Mindy Domb and Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli have filed a bill to establish a pilot program to provide money for 12 providers spread geographically around the state to help purchase, store and distribute diapers. The bill would also require them to track and report on the impact of the pilot, with funds coming from the state or private donations. Sen. Joan Lovely filed a version of the bill in the Senate.
While the diaper need among low-income families is not new, advocates said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation more dire. Other states with similar programs include California, Colorado and Washington.
“The diaper needs have been out of this world, like something I’ve never seen before,” said Jamill Martinez, director of network organizing for Lawrence CommunityWorks.
Lisa Smith, deputy director at Neighbors in Need, said her organization, which runs a diaper pantry in Lawrence, helps more than 1,200 unique families a year, and she said 75% of the diapers it distributes come from private donations. To meet the remaining need, Smith said, she has to purchase through stores like Walmart, but has encountered some of the same supply chain issues that impacted the availability of scores of other consumer products.
A 192-count box of infant-sized Pampers was listed Monday on Walmart’s website for $59.30.
While helping diapers pantries meet the need in their communities was one solution proposed, advocates said it’s not the only way to attack the problem.
Currently, low-income parents receiving food assistance cannot use their public benefits to pay for diapers. Rep. Steven Xiarhos, a Barnstable Republican, filed a bill that would entitle anyone who qualifies for Department of Transitional Assistance benefits to receive an extra $30 a month for diapers.
Xiarhos said he also supports the other diaper assistance bills filed this session.