Rush Limbaugh inspired me.
There, I said it, and it is the only kind thing I will ever say about his life and death.
In the fall of 2011, I helped found the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN). Our purpose was to raise awareness of diaper need and identify simple solutions to help the one in three U.S. families who struggle to afford clean diapers for their children.
Among our earlier supporters were Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT) and then Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. In October 2011, Rep. DeLauro introduced federal legislation to fund the free distribution of diapers through day care centers. Gov. Malloy issued a proclamation recognizing “Diaper Need Awareness Day” in Connecticut. In partnership with The Diaper Bank of Connecticut, we organized a public forum featuring policy specialists and community advocates to discuss the public health issue that impacts children and families living in poverty.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, Limbaugh used his nationally syndicated radio talk show to demean and attack our efforts to recognize and address diaper need. He said:
“How long is it going to be before a bunch of geezers in nursing homes are gonna be demanding free diapers? Can you imagine this panel discussion? Will this be on C-SPAN? Who will the experts be? Can you imagine watching a panel discussion on the health risks for babies whose diapers are not changed frequently enough?”
My response remains exactly the same, today, as when I first heard his words.
“Yes, I can.”
Today diaper need is recognized as a major public health issue harming children and families in every community throughout the U.S. Significant academic research on diaper need has been published in Pediatrics, American Journal of Public Health, Contemporary Pediatrics, among others. These studies and articles have quantified and substantiated the issue and its consequences.
Over the course of 10 years, countless panel discussions on diaper need have been organized by NDBN and local diaper bank programs to elevate and address the issue. Our national conference, which features three days of panels, has expanded beyond diaper need to include period poverty. In 2020, more than 300 leaders of diaper banks and period supply programs, advocates, and public policy officials participated in our U.S. Conference on Poverty and Basic Needs.
2020 also gave rise to an unprecedented increase in need for diapers and period supplies due to the economic impact of the pandemic on struggling families unable to afford the material basic necessities we all need to thrive. News stories in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Economist, USA Today, and hundreds of local media outlets recounted the heroic work of our member diaper banks and period supply programs to help people in their respective communities.
Yet, despite the amazing philanthropic support of individuals, companies and foundations, what was true in 2011, remains true today. Diaper need, and now period poverty, cannot be solved by nonprofit organizations and the generosity of others. The solutions demand government support.
Today, we are on the cusp of major policy changes in this country.
Rep. DeLauro remains a tireless advocate for our issues and our organization. She and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) are championing the Lee-DeLauro End Diaper Need Act of 2021, which would help provide diapers to children and families throughout the country.
Last week, Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL) introduced a bipartisan version of this legislation, with Senators Kevin Cramer (ND) and Bob Casey (PA), that will assist low-income families that aren’t able to afford diapers for their babies or toddlers. Sen. Duckworth said, “Quite frankly, families have enough to deal with right now—the last thing they should have to worry about is affording diapers.”
Senators Joni Ernst (IA) and Chris Murphy (CT) are advancing bipartisan legislation supported by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well. The COVID-19 Diaper Assistance Act would provide $200 million in additional funds through the Social Services Block Grant program for diaper assistance.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed stimulus package calls for $35 million in immediate support to food banks, for food and diapers, as they’ve experienced an unprecedented increase in demand from millions of people who’ve sought out services for the first time. Plus, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is championing a three-year $30 million funding request for diaper banks, which would expand a successful $10 million diaper distribution program set to expire this year.
And across the rest of the country, dozens of state legislators are working hard to open up funding sources and craft new legislation to support their communities struggling with diaper need – because they actually understand what families are going through on a daily basis.
And as far as “a bunch of geezers in nursing homes…demanding free diapers,” we’re on it. Access to incontinence supplies is a major issue in this country and many NDBN-member diaper banks have active programs that are reliable resources for individuals in need.
Plus, I joined my friend and journalist Colleen Shaddox to co-author Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding and Ending U.S. Poverty, which was released earlier this month. The book is dedicated to issues, policies and real people who Limbaugh never saw, never understood, and never cared to help.
So, thank you Rush Limbaugh for inspiring me and countless others to fight—metaphorically of course—for what I know is right and just and equitable. All people deserve the material basic necessities required to thrive.
The choices we make matter.