California Bill Would Start Nation’s First Diaper Assistance Program

It was the last week of the month, and Shanique Brown had already spent her $515 in CalWORKs benefits. Other programs would prevent Brown and her 18-month-old son, Armani, from going hungry, but the 22-year-old single mom had no money for a necessity so basic it is often forgotten: diapers.

For an entire week, Brown stayed at home with her son, constantly asking him if he had to go to the bathroom.

“I cried and cried,” said Brown, now 24.

Armani is now potty-trained, but a new state bill seeks to ensure low-income parents will never face the challenge Brown did. If passed, Assembly Bill 1516 would make California the first state in the country to create a diaper assistance program for families on welfare.

The groundbreaking legislation comes with a price tag: more than $100 million annually, according to Jolie Onodera, principal consultant for the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which will conduct the next hearing on the bill Monday.

A study published last year by researchers at Yale found 30 percent of low-income women struggle to pay for disposable diapers and have reused them to make ends meet. Diaper difficulty is compounded by laws prohibiting recipients of food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) from using their benefits to purchase diapers; the child care necessity is grouped with cigarettes and alcohol.