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
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT