No matter where you shop for them, diapers are an expense that can set families back nearly $1,000 a year. While most parents would do anything to keep their children healthy, the reality is that there are still far too many people in this country forced to make tough choices between keeping their babies in clean diapers or paying bills and buying food. So why are we taxing this basic need for parents?
On average, babies go through 50 diapers each week, or 200 diapers a month, and many mothers are reporting that they often fall 11 to 12 diapers short each week, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. And yet a tax on diapers is in effect in most places around the nation, costing our nation’s most vulnerable populations.
Just as efforts to get rid of the tampon tax gains traction and reminds us that feminine care should not be thought of as a luxury, the fight to eliminate a diaper tax in all states should not be shifted off to the sidelines. It’s one small but effective measure that can help bring relief to thousands of families who are working full-time jobs for minimum wage and spend 6 percent of their gross income on diapers alone.
A few states have already helped parents by eliminating the diaper tax altogether — hats off to Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont (Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire and Montana have no sales tax, period). Connecticut, where adult diapers are tax-free, is considering scrapping the diaper tax, and legislators in Illinois have proposed reducing the sales tax on diapers and wipes from 6.25 percent to 1 percent.
But there’s still a way to go.
After researchers from Yale University surveyed 877 pregnant women or moms in New Haven, Connecticut, they found that an astonishing 30 percent, or 1 in 12, revealed that they either stretch out the time their babies spend in soiled diapers or reuse dirty diapers after cleaning them to the best of their ability. Children who are kept in soiled diapers for long periods of time are more likely to contract urinary tract infections and develop rashes — and let’s not forget these health conditions require expensive trips to the doctor and/or pharmacy.
There’s another aspect to this story that lead author Megan Smith reminds us of: When children kept in dirty diapers cry or act out because they are experiencing irritation, a parent’s stress level increases, which doesn’t help her parent as effectively as she could.
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You may be wondering why these parents don’t simply switch to reusable cloth diapers. Many of them are from low-income backgrounds and don’t own washing machines and dryers. A number of laundromats won’t allow you to wash soiled cloth diapers in their machines because they feel it’s unsanitary or their washing machines aren’t equipped to handle the high temperatures needed to properly wash reusable diapers.
And there’s another big catch here: Parents who work full-time jobs and rely on day care are expected to drop off their children with a supply of diapers. Those families that receive food stamps from federal aid programs like WIC and SNAP know the grim reality — these programs don’t cover the cost of diapers.
Even without sales tax, working disposable diapers into a family budget is a challenge. But every cent saved on diapers helps families in need. It helps keep children in those families healthy and happy. It even helps working parents whose livelihoods rely, in part, on sending their babies to day care with diapers.
Diapers are not a luxury — they’re a medical necessity. And sales tax exemptions should be made for baby products that keep our children (and their parents) healthy and happy.