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 will continue to assist 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.
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 Diaper Bank Partner 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.