New Washington state law will provide low-income families with monthly subsidy to buy diapers; act is effective Nov. 1, 2023, and will apply only to families with a child under age three that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

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Washington , April 11, 2022 (press release) –

A new law will provide low-income Washington families with a monthly subsidy to purchase diapers starting next year, but until it goes into effect, diaper banks and community groups are there for Central Washington families that need help.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the End Diaper Need Act into law last month. It received near unanimous support in the Senate and passed soundly in the House.

Under the law, families with a child under age 3 who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, will get a monthly subsidy to help purchase diapers.

The act goes into effect Nov. 1, 2023, and will provide subsides only to families on TANF. In the meantime, and for families who fall outside that category, networks of diaper banks and community agencies in Yakima County and Central Washington work to provide diaper assistance.

The End Diaper Need Act

A study in the journal Pediatrics in 2013 found that one-third of mothers surveyed reported diaper need. One month's supply of diapers can cost around $80, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.

Low income families are more likely to struggle with diaper need, but it affects more people than one might think, said Phillip Vander Klay, director of policy and government relations for the National Diaper Bank Network.

"It really is cutting across a large swath of American families," he said.

Inadequate diaper changes can lead to severe diaper rash and urinary tract infections, as well as higher parental stress, according to the bill. Most child care centers require a day's worth of diapers for each child, so families that cannot provide that have to have a parent or family member watch over the child, missing out on economic opportunities.

While low-income families may be eligible for assistance through multiple government programs, TANF funds are the only ones that can be used to purchase supplies like diapers.

The federal program TANF provides cash assistance for families in need, and in Washington it's run by the Department of Social and Health Services. Nearly 30,000 families used the program in Washington in fiscal year 2021, with about 30% having children under age 6, according to the final bill report.

Benefits are based on family size and income, with a family of three, with no income, eligible for a monthly grant of $654, according to the DSHS website. The average monthly grant for a family on TANF was $470.63, according to the final bill report.

Families may need to use that money for necessities other than diapers, like rent, bills or transportation.

That's where the new subsidy will come in. Families on TANF with children under age 3 will receive a monthly subsidy to help buy diapers. The bill itself does not name a dollar amount for the monthly subsidy, and DSHS representatives did not confirm the subsidy amount in time for publication. Westside Baby, a King County child advocacy group that supported the bill, named the final figure as $100 a month.

Vander Klay praised the legislation.

"We're looking forward to seeing how the combination of state support for diaper banks and also support for this type of subsidy to TANF families will have positive economic impacts, and hoping to really emulate those types of policies across the country," he said.

Local diaper assistance

Diaper need has been an issue in Central Washington, and community groups have stepped up to fill that need.

Established in 2011, the Tri-Cities Diaper Bank distributes about 300,000 diapers a year with the help of over a dozen community partners, said Renèe Martin, an administrative assistant at Richland Seventh-day Adventist Church, which helps run the diaper bank.

"We've been in operation all this time and been doing this for a few years, and there has been a big need for it," she said.

She said families have come in and reported washing and trying to reuse disposable diapers because they could not afford more.

"It's pretty tough when you've got things like that happening," she said.

Martin said the diaper supply comes from monetary and in-kind donations, including a truckload of diapers from Huggies in the past.

In Yakima, Triumph Treatment Services received a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce to establish the Yakima County Diaper Bank Network through fiscal year 2023.

Kimberly Hitchcock oversees Triumph's Parent Child Assistance Program, which is in charge of the diaper bank network. She said the network has 16 community partners and has been up and running for about a month.

"It's such a critical need," she said. The network has already served over 100 families in just more than a month.

As a part of the grant, partner agencies collect demographic data on its clients, Hitchcock said.

As of Thursday, the network has served 127 clients, according to demographic data provided by Hitchcock. The majority of these clients make under 300% of the federal poverty limit, with a household income between $10,000 to $24,000 being the most common. About 59% of clients were Hispanic and another 31% were Native American. About 23% of clients chose Spanish as their preferred language.

Diapers and wipes were the most commonly requested items, though agencies may also have formula or clothing available.

Filling a service gap

The monthly diaper subsidy will only apply to people on TANF after November 2023. While this will make a difference for thousands of families across Washington, some people will still slip through the cracks.

TANF families must have under $6,000 in resources, be state residents, and can only collect support for five years.

Families that don't meet those qualifications will still need the services of community diaper banks.

"I don't know if it'll impact us too much, because there's many more people that don't qualify, don't meet those guidelines, and are still in need," said Lisa Sargent, director of Social Ministries for the Salvation Army Yakima Corps, which recently partnered with Triumph to increase its diaper services.

Hitchcock agreed, saying there will be families that do not qualify for the subsidy and will still need help accessing diapers. Even for those who do qualify, the subsidy may not be enough to cover a family's diaper needs.

"I don't think it's gonna be a huge dent in the need. I think we're still gonna have a big need in this county," Hitchcock said.

While members of the Yakima County Diaper Bank Network collect demographic information, it is not for the purpose of turning away families. Hitchcock said its services are primarily for low income people, but partner agencies do not require proof of income or citizenship.

At the Tri-Cities Diaper Bank, Martin said their community partners screen for things like income. Its clients must be able to prove that they are caretakers of a child and almost always make below 150% of the federal poverty level.

But the diaper bank and its partners do not check for citizenship status, and Martin knew of several families of refugees or asylum seekers the organization helped in recent years.

"We don't discriminate in any of those senses," she said.

Martin said she suspected the new legislation will decrease community need for diaper bank services.

"This is one of the things that as a diaper bank, we advocate for," she said. "Diapers shouldn't be a disallowed hygiene item, in the scheme of things. Diapers are a basic human necessity."

Contact Vanessa Ontiveros at vontiveros@yakimaherald.com.

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