Diapers and daycare: How lawmakers are trying to help parents through the pandemic

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'The pandemic made a bad situation worse, with women and people of color paying the price.'

Lawmakers are taking active steps to ensure parents are getting the help they need amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest effort comes from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who is spearheading the End Diaper Need Act of 2021 to assist low-income families unable to afford necessary items for their infants.

The bill, introduced on Monday, would provide $200 million for struggling families to buy diapers and other supplies through the Social Service Block Grant Program starting in 2022. Through Medicaid, the bill would also provide "medically complex children" with "200 medically necessary diapers per month," according to a press release.

The legislation will "address the increased burden" of "maintaining the health and hygiene of infants and toddlers."

Importantly, the bill would also "make medically necessary diapers and diapering qualified medical expenses so that families can purchase them using their [health savings accounts] or [health reimbursement accounts]."

As HuffPost noted, "Currently, government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children do not cover the cost of diapers" and they are "not considered reimbursable for some health spending accounts."

Duckworth said in a statement, "In the middle of a global public health crisis ― with so many families struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads ― the last thing parents should have to worry about is being able to buy diapers that are essential to the health and well-being of their children."

Indeed, diapers have become increasingly difficult for low-income families to afford. The National Diaper Bank Network noted that infants need as many as 12 diapers per day, while toddlers need about eight diapers daily — that averages to approximately $80 a month per child.

Joanne Goldblum, the group's CEO, said the legislation is "critically needed."

"The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated the issue of diaper need in America. Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 3 families struggled to get enough diapers to keep their child clean, dry, and healthy. During the pandemic, those numbers have skyrocketed," Goldblum said.

She continued, "[E]ven in the months ahead ... diaper need will remain unacceptable[ly] high without any intervention, keeping parents out of the workforce, jeopardizing infant health, and preventing families from thriving."

In another effort to aid struggling parents, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and the Democratic Women's Caucus led 54 lawmakers in penning a letter last Tuesday to President Joe Biden calling for child-care related funds to be included in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

"We urge you to include $100 billion in reconciliation packages to not only stabilize child care for families and early educators, but also lay the groundwork for moving toward universal child care and early learning," the lawmakers wrote.

The funds would provide families with child care and supplement early childhood educators' low wages.

"[E]ven before the pandemic, a child care crisis was unfolding across our nation, making the sector vulnerable to collapse. Child care was unaffordable, costing more than in-state college tuition in half of states and eating up 35 percent of income for low-wage families," the letter noted.

Furthermore, child care workers are paid an average of $29,900 per year and are forced to rely "on public benefits for basic needs," the lawmakers pointed out, noting that "the pandemic made a bad situation worse, with women and people of color paying the price."

Black and Latina women make up nearly 40% of child care workers, while "17 percent are immigrants," they added.

Caregiving responsibilities were just one of the reasons 2 million more women left the labor force since the start of the pandemic, the lawmakers said, citing a study that said the economy is at risk of falling $64.5 billion more into debt per year "in women's lost wages and economic activity" if no further action is taken.

The lawmakers' efforts are part of a larger push by Democrats to assist vulnerable communities hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Democrats, along with Biden, aim to pass larger direct payments of $1,400 to some Americans. The president previously called the last round of $600 relief checks passed under the prior administration a "down payment."

In January, House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Raise the Wage Act to increase the federal minimum wage from $9.50 to $15 an hour by 2025. A Congressional Budget Office study released Monday found that 17 million American workers — about 10% of laborers — would benefit from such an increase and approximately 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty.

Democrats are also proposing an expanded child tax credit, which could lift 4.1 million children out of poverty and cut the child poverty rate down by over 40%, according to Chuck Marr, senior director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

According to the budget center, the full child tax credit would particularly benefit communities of color, hit excessively hard by the pandemic, lifting "1 million Black, 1 million Latino, 850,000 non-Hispanic white, 120,000 Asian and Pacific Islander, and 70,000 Native American individuals, including children" out of poverty.

"This is historic. This is a major, major change. It's been decades building up to this point," Marr said. "This is the reason why people are so excited."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.