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California Passes Bill to Give Low-Income Families Money for Diapers

California could soon become the first state to provide diaper expense subsidies to poor families. A policy expert explains why more subsidies like this are needed.

by Candace Bryan
Sep 2 2016, 9:20pm

Image by Sarah Lalone via Stocksy

California lawmakers passed a new bill this week that would grant low-income families vouchers to help with the burdensome cost of diapers. If signed into law, it would California would become the state to provide diaper expense subsidies.

For many families, the cost of diapers is an unavoidable financial burden. However, food stamps cannot be used to purchase diapers, and diapers are not part of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. As a result, diapers become an enormous expense for poor parents — Think Progress reports one baby can use almost $1000 dollars worth of diapers annually.

California's bill, if signed into law by the state's governor, will help reduce the diaper expense for low-income families by granting those with a child under the age of two a $50 voucher each month that can be used to buy diapers.

Read more: New York Is Finally Pulling the Plug on the Tampon Tax

Michele Stillwell-Parvensky, senior policy and government affairs manager of the Children's Defense Fund in Oakland, California, tells Broadly that advocates have been looking to solve the diaper problem for years at the charitable level, with solutions including "diaper banks," where people can donate diapers to be handed out for free to families in need.

"But here in California, with assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill in 2014, It was the first time in my memory that there's been an effort to address this at the state level," she says, adding that there's another bill in California currently aiming to exempt diapers from the sales tax, too.

As it stands now, families who can't afford diapers don't have many options.

"A lot of families rely on diaper banks and donations, but if they can't get them, they may be forced to have babies spend periods of time in soiled diapers, or to reuse diapers, which can lead to very serious health problems for babies," says Stillwell-Parvensky. "Another challenge is that for a lot of childcare programs, clean diapers are required in order for children to attend those programs."

We need to make sure families have access to all the basic necessities they need to survive and for their children to thrive.

This becomes a problem for parents who rely on childcare programs to look after their children in order to go to work. "If parents can't access childcare, they have to stay home and end up having to keep children in diapers for a day, or even longer sometimes, much more than recommended."

"Providing vouchers that address this critical need helps keep children healthy and allows parents access to childcare so they can work," she says, pointing out that while this bill is a key step in the right direction, she hopes to see more welfare services expanded in the future. Stillwell-Parvensky wants to raise grant levels in welfare programs to prevent parents from having "to decide between tennis shoes that don't have holes in them, or utilities, or the rent check, or diapers."

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"We need to make sure families have access to all the basic necessities they need to survive and for their children to thrive."