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Photo by: Jessica Bachmann
The Junior League of New Orleans is pleased to present this Lagniappe issue focused on Leadership. There are two important and closely related events on the horizon as I compose this letter, both of which are of particular interest to JLNO members and all women leaders: Diaper Need Awareness Week and the mid-term elections.
First, Diaper Need Awareness Week is September 24 – 30, 2018. Now in the fifth year of our Diaper Bank program, JLNO is well acquainted with this issue. However, it is still a hidden consequence of poverty to most people, especially those not living through it. According to the National Diaper Bank Network, of which JLNO is a member, diaper need is defined as the lack of a sufficient supply of diapers to keep a baby clean, dry, and healthy. Harm done to the physical health of a child who does not have enough clean diapers is clear. What may be less obvious are the psychological, developmental, social and economic impacts of diaper need on the child and family.
Having a baby is scary, stressful and expensive for all of us, no matter our income level or support system. There are nearly 200,000 children under age three in Louisiana. Roughly half our state’s residents live near or below the federal poverty line, and one in three parents report struggling to provide enough clean diapers for their children.
What Is the Diaper Crisis? Diapers are not covered under government social safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Only the much smaller Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) includes diapers as an allowable expense, but there are significant challenges to accessing these dollars. Most notably, in Louisiana the parental work requirement does not exempt mothers who have just given birth. Also, diapers are not exempt from city or state sales tax like other necessities such as food and medicine.
Diapers can cost as much as $0.40 each, and as many as ten diapers could be used in a day. That’s the same number usually required to be sent with a child to most early childhood education programs or daycares. Add transportation challenges into the mix, and you see why many low-income families might not be able to utilize otherwise free high-quality early childhood education programs. As a result, children are less prepared for school and not receiving all the tools they need in the critical first three years of development. Parents are more stressed and less likely to be able to take advantage of educational or career opportunities if they don’t have a safe, reliable place to send their child while they work. When JLNO was made aware that many Orleans Parish early childhood education spaces went unfilled last year, we piloted a program to supply diapers to ten of those centers so more families can utilize this important public service.
Parents and children living healthy, independent lives are good for the individuals and good for the community. It is in our best social and economic interests to support our most vulnerable citizens by ensuring they have access to the most basic necessities, including clean diapers. When JLNO established our diaper bank five years ago, we had a goal of distributing 90,000 diapers. This year that number could approach a million. In the month of August alone we distributed 95,000 diapers to community partners. We are proud to have scaled this program in such a short time, but this still comes nowhere close to meeting the need in our community.
Elections Matter in Solving the Diaper Crisis. As with most major problems, we agree the problem exists. Where we typically disagree is in the solution. Problems like diaper need can only be solved when non-profits like JLNO work in partnership with business and government to find solutions, which leads me back to that second event — the mid term elections.
Much has been said about the importance of women in leadership. As the president of a 95-year-old women’s training organization of 2,100 members — current and future community leaders — this certainly resonates with me. Frankly, I doubt that the problem of diaper need would be quite so dire today were there more women at the table when some of the aforementioned policy decisions were made. But I want to be clear that this is not a zero-sum game.
I am not suggesting that anyone vote for a candidate based simply on gender. Issues like diaper need do not affect only women and children, but the entire community. Likewise, problems are not solved by women alone, but they’re sure to persist if women aren’t part of the solution. As leaders, it is imperative that we educate ourselves on the critical issues impacting us and our community, then empower those most capable of solving them.
Alice Franz Glenn