Skip to main content

Cost of diapers a big problem for poor moms

By Joanne Samuel Goldblum, Special to CNN
updated 8:54 AM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
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
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT