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Who will save the babies when the California budget is in free fall? – Marin Independent Journal

Employees of the Oakland-based nonprofit diaper bank help a mother provide diapers at San Mateo Medical Center. (Photo by Help a Mother Out)

Boom and bust budget cycles are the norm in California. This year we have an extraordinary budget deficit of $27.6 billion.

The budget crisis means renewed funding for key programs like the state diaper bank network is at risk. In 2019, California became the first state to provide funding for diaper banks. This funding has facilitated infrastructure investments and the distribution of over 160 million diapers, benefiting over 1.6 million babies. Thanks to federal funding, Help a Mother Out, the Bay Area's diaper bank, distributed nearly 38 million diapers, reaching over 338,000 babies.

The budget is in free fall, but there is hope. Rep. Liz Ortega, D-San Leandro, is supporting a $23 million budget request to continue funding. But if the legislature and governor do not agree to include these funds in the budget, the loss will be felt exponentially, affecting hundreds of thousands of babies and families. Furthermore, the infrastructure built over the last five years to support this nationwide network risks disappearing forever.

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, “diaper need” is the lack of a sufficient amount of diapers to keep a baby clean and dry. Nearly 50,000 babies in the Bay Area and over 375,000 babies statewide live in households that struggle to meet their basic needs.

There are heartbreaking stories behind the numbers. A Cupertino mother told her social worker that she gave her daughter less to drink so she wouldn't have to change her diaper as often. A mother in East Palo Alto went to prison for stealing diapers; Their children were placed in foster families. A San Francisco mom ripped up old T-shirts to use as diapers. And there are countless stories of desperate mothers air-drying diapers after shaking out their excrement to reuse them.

I was shocked to learn that government assistance programs (e.g. food stamps/WIC) do not cover diapers. Disposable diapers are required when attending childcare; Childcare is a prerequisite for work and vocational training. Diapers are expensive, up 48% in retail since 2020, costing a family up to $135 per month/child. A lack of a reliable supply of diapers leads to depression in mothers. Wearing soiled diapers harms babies, creates toxic stress, and can lead to health problems such as severe diaper rash and urinary tract infections.

Babies who don't have enough diapers to stay clean and dry should be everyone's concern. For the people in the background who say, “If you can’t afford kids, don’t have them,” I would ask where your humanity is. Babies do not ask to be born into this world; They can't pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And those who say, “I used cloth diapers for my four children” may think that your diaper and laundry options aren't available to everyone.

As a long-time resident of the Bay Area, I have come to the conclusion that our region presents two distinct realities. On the one hand, 63 billionaires and 285,000 millionaires live here. On the other hand, 1,400,000 residents live in poverty.

Diaper bank programs can have a big impact on a large scale. Public funding allows organizations like Help a Mother Out to benefit from economies of scale. In fiscal year 2023, the nonprofit had operating expenses of $3.6 million. Through 75 partners, we distributed over 13 million diapers and reached 7,500 babies each month, saving families $5.2 million.

Given the state's budget crisis, funding for diaper banks has been relegated to the dust of the budget. I think this is a case of penny and pound stupidity. Removing the cost of diapers from a family's monthly budget amounts to a universal basic income for babies. That's what I call economic justice. This problem is solvable. Who saves the babies?

Lisa Truong is the founder and executive director of the Oakland nonprofit Help a Mother Out.

Anna Harden

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