Policy Resource

5 Critical Needs for Babies in COVID-19: Meeting Basic Needs

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Diapers and Good Nutrition Boost Babies’ Health

The Investment:

  • $200 million in funding for procurement and local distribution of diapers for families in need
  • 15% boost to the SNAP maximum benefit & increase minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30

Why is this need critical?

  • Critical for babies’ health: Dry diapers help ensure the health of babies by preventing severe diaper rash or urinary tract infections that could send them to the emergency room; an adequate supply of diapers can reduce parental stress that could adversely affect the baby.

  • Critical for rapid growth and development: Good nutrition is an essential building block for positive early growth and development. Even before the pandemic, one in six households with infants and toddlers experienced low or very low food insecurity.

  • Critical for family financial stability: Prior to the pandemic, more than two in five infants and toddlers lived in low-income families that often lack the financial stability to consistently meet basic needs–like nutritious food, diapers and wipes, stable housing, health care, and all of the resources needed to support a young child’s healthy development.

Investment Details:

Congress should provide $200 million in funding to support procurement and local distribution of diapers to families in need.
Even prior to the pandemic, nearly one in three American families with young children reported experiencing diaper need. Some research suggests these needs may be particularly acute for grandparents raising a young child—almost one in ten infants and toddlers live with a grandparent. Given the current economic fallout from the pandemic, even more families will be challenged to afford and secure diapers for their babies. With reports of diaper shortages in stores across the nation, the number of families struggling to obtain diapers is rising.

Jamie from Gillette, WY speaks to diaper need:
“My kid can potty train when his wipes and pull ups run out, but there are moms that have young kids who have no way to get diapers and wipes if or when they run out. There needs to be some effort to change the situation, otherwise babies will not get what they need.”

Diapers are one of the most basic needs for families with babies and toddlers. Without enough diapers to ensure they can stay clean and dry, infants and toddlers are at risk of serious health conditions such as skin infections, open sores, and urinary tract infections. If these conditions become severe, they would require medical attention that for low-income families without access regular practitioners, could mean a trip to the emergency room. With an already overburdened health care system, preventative measures must be taken to avoid unnecessary hospital and emergency room visits.

Research shows that mothers reporting mental health needs are more likely to report diaper need as well, suggesting that meeting the tangible need of being able to secure diapers for their young children could reduce parental stress. Such stress is likely to be heightened in the pandemic, as in previous disasters. Maternal mental distress can negatively impact the social-emotional health of young children.

Congress should increase SNAP benefits to increase child wellness and meet family nutrition needs.
Building on the evidence of the effectiveness of increasing SNAP benefits in in improving young children’s health and reducing food insecurity, Congress should provide:

  • A 15 percent boost to the SNAP maximum benefit; and
  • An increase in the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30.

SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity for the majority of low-income infants, toddlers, and their families. SNAP overall is effective in reducing food insecurity by helping families with low income afford healthy foods and providing information about nutrition. Even so, one in six of households with infants and toddlers still experiences low or very low food insecurity. The current SNAP benefit is too low to ensure enough food for the household.

Emily from Oakland, CA shares her firsthand account of worrying about food insecurity and her ability to meet her families’ basic needs:
“I’ve lost all my income for the duration of the shelter in place order. We have a toddler and I’m not sure how we’ll get groceries and essentials, much less pay rent and bills. Due to allergies and dietary restrictions, food pantries and free school lunches aren’t helpful.”

For very young children, the amount of the SNAP benefit, or “dose”, matters. Increased SNAP benefits as part of the stimulus during the Great Recession both sets a precedent for raising benefits during a severe economic downturn and provides the evidence of its benefits for babies and toddlers whose healthy physical and neural development is fueled by good nutrition. Research shows that young children in families that received the increased SNAP benefit were significantly more likely to be classified as healthy and well than children in similar families not receiving SNAP. Prior to the benefit boost, little difference was observed. However, when the benefit was reduced several years later, household food insecurity increased by 23 percent, while child food insecurity increased by 17 percent—the latter a sign that adults take the brunt of reductions in food availability if they can.

  • Contact

    Jim Bialick

    Director, Government Relations

    ZERO TO THREE

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