As parents who work for the government miss out on their paychecks, acquiring diapers has become a unforeseen challenge. Thankfully, people and nonprofits are banding together to support these moms and dads.

By Maressa Brown
Updated: January 18, 2019
Laboko/ Shutterstock

January 18, 2019

From the hospital bill to baby gear to child care, parents know all too well that there are many predictable and unexpected costs associated with raising a child. One expense that's a given for most families and can add up rather quickly: diapers. The latest stats conclude that the average child will use more than 2,700 diapers in the first year alone, which can cost more than $550 (based on an average price of $0.20 per disposable diaper). For parents who decide to go the reusable route, a cloth diaper service ends up being roughly $70 per month and laundering/care can cost $250+.

When paychecks are coming in and families are able to stay on budget, laying out cash like this may be doable. But with the government shutdown, which began on December 22, preventing 800,000 federal workers from being paid (including 380,000 who are furloughed and 420,000 who are working without salary), many parents who work for the government cannot afford diapers. 

The Huffington Post recently interviewed one such parent, a corrections officer at a federal prison in Texas referred to only as Jojo, as she and her fellow employees were told not to speak to the press. The mom of two is the sole earner in her household, as her husband stays home to care for their two sons, who are 3 and 4. The boys have autism, are non-verbal and recently aged out of home services. The shutdown has made an already difficult situation even more stressful, as Jojo and her husband, who were living paycheck-to-paycheck previously, now cannot afford to pay their mortgage, car note, or diapers (which run the family $120/month). 

"I can’t not change them. They can’t survive like that," Jojo told HuffPost. "You have to take care of the little ones. You don’t want to jeopardize their health and wellness."

Another mom from Washington state, who asked to be quoted anonymously, tells Parents.com, "My husband is active duty Coast Guard. So far we are OK. I work full-time, and we cloth diaper our twins, so at least I don’t have to worry about that. I will be able to keep our family afloat for a few months." That said, if the shutdown continues, her family's financial outlook is bleak. "Our savings account will be empty in three months max," she notes. "I will have to juggle payments around, and we will for sure be eating differently. More canned instead of fresh. Less meats more beans and pasta."

Charitable people and organizations all over the country have caught wind of the crisis and are doing what they can to support federal workers and their families. On Wednesday, January 16, a Reddit user named TraciLeann posted a call for federal workers to get in touch if they need diapers. "If you are a federal worker in need of diapers, I have 15 cloth diapers I am needing to part with!" she wrote in the Beyond the Bump Reddit. 

Soon thereafter, other Redditors jumped in on the thread, offering to send their reusable diapers to those in need.

Federal workers and loved ones of government employees responded, at times sharing heartbreaking details. One said, "This is so generous. I'm a Coast Guard wife and due in March (32 weeks), so I still have some time. I'm really hoping the shutdown will be over by then, but man is it scary!!! Thank you so much for being awesome." Another wrote, "One of my good friends gave birth to her second yesterday and she is a SAHM and her husband is an air traffic controller. They just bought a house last year too and now no money is coming in."

Similar threads, like this one from a D.C. mom offering Size 1 diapers, have popped up on the social media site. 

Nonprofits and other charitable organizations are doing what they can, as well. The Cloth Option is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that provides reusable diapers to families in need. Sadie Cora, chair of the group’s board of directors, tells Parents.com that more people are looking to get involved since they shared a post about the program being available to families impacted by the shutdown.  

"Our number of applicants has skyrocketed," Cora notes. "We are working around the clock to get diaper packages in the mail. We are seeing many applications from federal employees and Coast Guard families, as well as families unsure if they will continue to receive their public assistance benefits that they depend on." Donations will support the organization's efforts to mobilize and respond quickly to these families in emergency need.

Another well-known organization, The National Diaper Bank Network, which comprises more than 200 local diaper banks and provides 52 million diapers a year, is finding it challenging to keep up with federal workers' current needs. The organization's CEO and founder Joanne Goldblum told Parents.com: "Families impacted by the partial government shutdown are struggling with a type of 'situational poverty' that is associated with natural disasters, like hurricanes, floods, or wildfires. Because many families live paycheck to paycheck, not being paid means they cannot afford to provide their family’s basic needs. Diapers are a basic need of every baby. The additional demand required to help furloughed federal workers and their families is stretching the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) and our member diaper banks, nonprofit organizations that work everyday to support poor and low-wage families experiencing diaper need. Individuals can help get diapers to families by making a financial donation to NDBN or any of our member diaper banks that are providing assistance in their local communities."  

You can donate to The National Diaper Bank Network via their webpage, which also provides information to those in need of diapers. Here's an active list of NDBN-member programs that are providing diapers (in varying capacities) to families impacted by the shutdown in their respective communities.  

·       Galveston Diaper Bank in TX

·       Greater DC Diaper Bank in DC, VA, MD

·       Help A Mother Out in the Bay area

·       Hope Supply Co. in Dallas, TX

·       Project Undercover in RI

·       Diaper Bank of North Carolina in Durham, NC

·       St. Louis Area Diaper Bank in MO

·       Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio, TX

·       Waco Diaper Bank in TX

·       WestSide Baby in Seattle

It Takes a Village, Baby is a nonprofit that provides essentials to families and is based in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is home to many federal workers. The organization recently posted on Facebook that they want to "offer some assistance to families who have been impacted by the federal shutdown. If you are a federal worker and are in need of diapers, please contact us at community@itavb.org." They also invited donors to fill out their online form or purchasing through their Amazon Wish List.

The longer the shutdown continues, the more distressing an impact it will have not only on federal workers but low-income families who rely on government programs. For instance, a program called WIC covers about 8 million low-income new mothers, infants, and children under 5 years old, at the cost of $6 billion a year. WIC mainly offers food assistance, but also spends millions on breastfeeding support and infant formula. Advocates told Vox that the state and local departments that administer the program have enough funding to provide benefits until at least mid-February. After that, the forecast is unclear, putting the well-being and lives of millions of little ones at risk. 

With hope, bolstered awareness and generosity around diaper need will lead to additional aid for government employees' families. But there's no question that the shutdown's sweeping, potentially devastating effect will be felt by parents and children all over the country.

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