PARENTS
08/06/2014 12:38 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014

California Could Be First To Provide Low-Income Families This Overlooked Necessity

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A staff member at West Valley Community Services, a basic needs center in Cupertino, Calif., recently overheard a mother admit she was withholding liquids from her child to cut back on diapers. That was when Jacqueline de Guzman, the organization's director of community resources, realized they had a major problem, she told The Huffington Post.

Diapers are not covered by any U.S. welfare programs. This leaves many low-income families to choose between scrounging up an estimated $100 a month for disposables, using reusable cloth diapers that most child care centers and laundromats won’t allow, or infrequently changing their babies’ diapers, putting them and the community at risk for irritations and infectious disease.

But that all could change with a state bill from California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). If passed, Gonzalez’s AB 1516 would create a program in the state’s CalWORKs welfare program to give qualifying families $80 a month to spend on diapers for children under age 2. Gonzalez cited lyrics from a 2002 Eminem song as inspiration for her bill, which passed out of the California Assembly and now awaits a vote by the state Senate Committee on Appropriations. The benefits, appropriations committee principal consultant Jolie Onodera told the Sacramento Bee, would reach more than 120,000 children.

With diapers banned from food stamp use -- along with alcohol, cigarettes and pet food -- families must rely on basic needs centers like the WVCS or the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center in Berkeley, Calif., both of which say diapers are one of the most in-demand items they provide.

“We see around 1,200 individuals each year, and I would say three-fourths of those are mothers in need of diapers,” the drop-in center’s volunteer coordinator Sydney Goodman told HuffPost.

Both centers have partnered with Help A Mother Out, a diaper bank that primarily serves the San Francisco Bay Area, and say they have not had to turn away families seeking diapers since those partnerships began. De Guzman says a public program is still needed, however.

But the program’s $100 million annual cost to taxpayers has made it controversial. No assembly Republican voted in favor of the bill, the Bee reported, with some suggesting it is merely a band-aid solution.

“Instead of expanding our welfare system and keeping millions dependent upon government, we should implement business-friendly policies enabling those out of work to obtain a job and provide for their families,” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said in a statement emailed to the paper.

But holding a steady job is easier said than done when parents can’t send their children to daycare programs, which require children always be dropped off with a day’s worth of disposable diapers.

“It’s simple,” Alysia Cox, a fellow with the Women’s Policy Institute working on the bill, said in a blog post. “No diapers, no child care. And no child care, no employment.”

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