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Free diapers have helped Connecticut families in need, report shows

Diapers that have been donated to nonprofit SAMU First Response, await asylum seekers from Latin America and Haiti arriving on a bus sent to Washington from Arizona, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at a church on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin
Diapers that have been donated.

Jenny Kohl didn’t know much about the diaper shortage before her interview for a student intern position with the Connecticut Diaper Bank at the start of the pandemic. However, within minutes on the job, Kohl understood the need and the economic burden diapers have on families across the United States.

“Diapers are more than just diapers, there’s an economic outcome too,” said Kohl, who is now the group’s advocacy and outreach coordinator.

A report released by the National Diaper Bank Network in June said that diaper needs have risen sharply since the beginning of the pandemic. In 2023, 47% of U.S. families reported diaper needs.

The diaper shortage can bring additional economic impacts, including 28% of families saying they skipped meals to afford more diapers.

In response, the Connecticut Diaper Bank collaborated with the Connecticut Hospital Association last November to start the Diaper Connections program. The goal is to consistently distribute diapers to families in need, through hospitals and other community organizations.

“The big issue with the product is that they’re really expensive,” Kohl said. “A lot of families that we work with are leveraging all these other basic social needs.”

However, the problem isn’t just an economic issue, it’s also a public health concern, said Dr. Selina Osei, the association’s director of health equity and community engagement. Osei points to an uptick in cases of diaper dermatitis and infant UTI.

“To send your kids to daycare, you need a two week supply of diapers, which is forcing families to stay home with the kids and resulting in a loss of income,” Osei said. “Otherwise what we would see is if you don’t have a sufficient supply, that means you are not changing the baby as much as you need which could lead to an increase in these cases,” she added.

Osei, who is spearheading the Diaper Connections partnership, is currently designing a data collection process to measure the impact the program has on the community from a public health perspective.

A status report released on Monday showed that the program has distributed over 1 million diapers to over 2,200 families in Connecticut.

The program also implemented screening for diaper needs at hospitals and are working on partnering with community groups to strengthen distribution channels.

“We want to ask the questions and then objectively track the need,” Osei said. “Once the family has screened positive for the need we also want to be mindful of assuming that just because there’s a need, that they’re actually interested in receiving diapers from the program.”

Although there’s been community action on this issue, at a policy level, diaper needs are not taken seriously, Kohl said.

“It’s always shocking to hear just the way diapers are treated on a policy level and thought of as luxury items,” she said. “There’s no support for these products; they're not covered under SNAP, WIC, really any sustainable program.”

At the Connecticut Diaper Bank, Kohl is coordinating legislation with a working group to hammer home to lawmakers the importance of making diaper insecurity a priority.

Last year, a bill was introduced to study whether Medicaid could cover diapers and other health-related items. The legislation was passed by the state House but stalled in the Senate during the last legislative session.

“To implement it, like everything with Medicaid, there’s a price tag to it,” Kohl said. “But there’s also a price tag to not supporting folks with these things.”

Families who are interested in registering in the Diaper Connections program can visit thediaperbank.org to view the directory of distribution partners in their area. Diaper Connections is also running a diaper drive through Oct. 14. to commemorate National Diaper Need Awareness Week.

Sara McGiff is a news intern at WSHU for the fall of 2023.