Taxpayers in California could soon be shelling out millions of dollars to help low-income families with one basic necessity: Diapers.
A new bill circulating in Sacramento would raise the amount of money low-income families receive through the state’s welfare program CalWORKS. Under the program, households with children receive a small cash stipend to assist with everyday basic necessities such as paying the rent, keeping utility bills current and buying clothes.
The bill is specifically tied to one other function of CalWORKS: State-funded daycare services that are offered at little or no cost to impoverished families. Many of these daycare centers require families to bring their own disposable diapers — something that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego says prevent many from using the service .
To remedy this, Gonzalez’s bill would automatically provide an additional $80 per month to families who currently receive CalWORKS benefits and have at least one child under the age of two. According to one consultant with the state’s Senate Committee on Appropriations, the additional money would cost Californian taxpayers more than $100 million every year.
California Republicans are not thrilled with the idea.
“Instead of expanding our welfare system and keeping millions dependent upon government, we should implement business-friendly policies enabling those out of work to obtain a job and provide for their families,” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield said in an e-mail sent to the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
Other Republicans say the cash aid should be tied to a mechanism that requires families to actually spend the money on diapers, something the current version of the bill lacks. A press secretary for one Republican assemblyman suggested to the Bee that the state could assign case workers to CalWORKS families in order to curb the possibility of diaper fraud.
Another problem, as noted by the Bee, is that any increase in money from CalWORKS automatically decreases the amount of welfare aid from other state programs, including California’s food stamp program CalFresh. The Senate Committee consultant to the Bee that this decrease in aid may cause families to spend the extra money on groceries instead, exacerbating the very problem that lawmakers are trying to solve.
The additional money may also not go far enough: On average, diapers rack up a cost of $100 a month for an American household — sometimes more if you live in a costlier city like San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Still, some lawmakers argue that nothing is worse than inaction. California Democrats are quick to point out that current federal law prohibits states from allowing the purchase of diapers under welfare and food stamps programs, including SNAP and WIC. Democrats theorize that providing $80 more a month to families for the purchase of diapers could actually save taxpayers money in the long run because it would allow some 100,000 families to take advantage of subsidized daycare programs, giving more parents the opportunity to re-enter the workforce with the overall goal of removing themselves from welfare programs.
Gonzalez admits the bill was written to raise awareness of the plight of young families who struggle to afford diapers. According to a recent study conducted by Yale University, 30 percent of mothers have struggled to pay for diapers, with another 8 percent of families re-using soiled diapers.
But the largely-symbolic bill has gained traction: It passed the state’s Assembly along party lines in May (no Republicans voted for the bill) and is expected to be taken up by the Senate soon. It could eventually reach the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, where it could be signed into law.
“To be quite frank, I am delighted but a little surprised that we’ve gotten it this far,” Gonzales told the Bee.
If the bill fails this year, Gonzales plans to re-write it and re-introduce it next year. Welfare advocates are keeping a close eye on the bill, hoping that it could serve as a model for other states if it becomes law.