At the heart of a bill moving through the Connecticut legislature are two simple questions.
First, should the state stop imposing sales tax on one of the most basic needs of every infant and toddler…clean diapers?
Second, would the elimination of sales tax on baby diapers help improve the well-being of all households with young children, particularly low-wage and poor families whose monthly budgets are continually stretched?
The answer to both questions is yes. We all should endorse legislation that improves access to the basic necessities required to raise healthy children.
Small things like diapers and taxes can impact big things like the physical, mental and economic well-being of children and families. A monthly supply of diapers averages $75 per child, a major expense for all households.
The Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis has determined that liberating baby diapers from the state sales tax would free up $4.3 million annually, thereby leaving moms and dads with more money to care for their babies.
That’s about $4.76 per month for each child — a significant amount of money for a single mom living paycheck to paycheck. It may mean milk and eggs for breakfast, bus fare to work, or additional diapers at the end of the month for her baby.
The latter is important because a Yale University study found that one in three mothers (33 percent) reported difficulty obtaining the diapers she needed to keep her child clean, dry and healthy, a condition known as “diaper need.”
This study also found a direct correlation between diaper need and adverse effects on the health of both mother and child. Insufficient diaper changes can cause severe diaper dermatitis, urinary tract infection, and other harmful health conditions. It also increases maternal stress.
Furthermore, the rate of diaper need nearly parallels the 40 percent of U.S. births financed by Medicaid. While the program delivers prenatal through postpartum care for women and children, neither it nor any safety-net system, including food stamps, specifically designates funds for diapers.
Eliminating sales tax on diapers would benefit low-wage families.
Currently, 38 states impose sales tax on baby diapers. Yet, most states don’t burden residents with sales tax on food or medicine, as each is deemed a basic need. In fact, only 13 states attach statewide sales tax to food sales, and six of those reduce the rate of taxation on food items, while five more offer rebates or income tax credits to help poor households. Only one state, Illinois (at 1 percent), collects sales tax on prescription drugs.
Again, baby diapers are a basic need, so why don’t more states exempt them from sales tax?
The average age of a first-time mom is nearly 26. Young families are often at the lowest point of their earnings potential, which makes every dollar available all the more important. Therefore, relief from sales tax on such a basic need for babies will do much to help these expanding households.
With the passage of the diaper tax bill, families in Connecticut will enjoy the same liberation from the diaper tax as those living in Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, each of which provides an exemption for baby diapers in their sales tax codes. (Note: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and New Hampshire have no state sales tax).
Let’s diaper on and rid families from burdensome taxes on diapers.
Joanne Samuel Goldblum is executive director and founder of the National Diaper Bank Network, and the leading voice on diaper need in the U.S.