Editorial: Tweak in Senate bill can help low-income families with diaper expense

Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2015
An amendment to the state Senate’s supplemental spending plan wants to make sure low-income families can afford to buy diapers. What the amendment looks to do is let Massachusetts seek approval for people to pay for diapers using benefits they get through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Right now, WIC provides an array of help — including supplemental foods, health care referrals and other services — but not diapers.

Diapers are not only a necessary item, but an expensive one. Infants require up to 12 diapers per day. While numbers vary, an adequate supply of diapers can cost $18 per week, or $936 per year, per child. Depending upon a family’s income and other circumstances, including where diapers are purchased, that figure can get bigger. Prices are generally cheaper at large retailers, but getting to those stores may not be an option for families without cars. If the child is in day care, families are often expected to supply diapers.

The issue isn’t confined to affordability. A Yale School of Medicine study published two years ago found that being unable to afford diapers creates issues for the child and the mother. Sampling 877 pregnant or parenting women in the New Haven, Conn., area, the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that about 30 percent of mothers said they were not able to afford diapers and that one in 12 said this meant they sometimes had to leave a child in a dirty diaper, or partially cleaning one and reusing it.

Leaving a child in a soiled diaper can lead to rashes or urinary track infections. “Obviously, then, children are going to show more signs of irritation, discomfort, crying and then this in turn would make the mother feel less adequate about her parenting abilities, (and) impact her depressive symptoms and her stress levels,” said Megan Smith, the study’s lead author. “An adequate supply of diapers may prove to be a tangible way of reducing parenting stress and increasing parenting sense of competency, enabling parents to be more sensitive with their children, and thereby improving parenting quality and overall child outcomes,” Smith wrote.

Local organizations already recognize the trouble some Hampshire and Franklin county residents have affording diapers. A Franklin County drive wound up collecting more than 26,000 diapers and about $5,000 in cash and check donations, enough to more than double this year’s drive goal of 24,000 diapers.

And the United Way of Hampshire County conducted a diaper drive that ended in mid-September after collecting roughly 45,000 diapers and 30,000 baby wipes. These diaper drives, says James Ayres, the United Way of Hampshire County’s executive director, achieve two goals: providing families with diapers and raising awareness about the problem. The Amherst Survival Center put together a spring drive that netted roughly 44,000 diapers.

As critical as these efforts are, letting people buy diapers with WIC vouchers would make a tremendous difference in the lives of parents and their children. The Senate’s step here is to be applauded and one the House should back as well.

As we wait to see what happens, perhaps people should consider making a diaper donation to one of the above organizations — it’s an ongoing need for too many families.