Susan Campbell: ‘It’s devastating.’ Diaper Bank funding cut comes at worst time

Photo of Susan Campbell
The Diaper Bank truck.

The Diaper Bank truck.

/ contributed photo

When Gov. Ned Lamont released his biennial budget online recently, Janet Stolfi Alfano called it up and read it line by line. All over the state, other leaders of non-profit organizations did the same. It’s something of a ritual. In larger non-profits, the job is handled by more than one employee. In non-profits that receive state funding, the release of the budget can be like Christmas - or anti-Christmas.

No one’s looking for Christmas this year.

Alfano is a social worker by training, and executive director of The Diaper Bank, which provides diapers and period and incontinence supplies to organizations, which then pass the goods on to low-income residents of Connecticut. Diapers can cost $100-150 a month. , or, according to a just-released Journal of Pediatrics study from Yale researchers, up to $1,500 a year.

Government programs such as SNAP (the former food stamp program) or WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) don’t cover the cost, despite the importance of these products to families. The Diaper Bank distributes, according to Alfano, 75,000 diapers a week - an organizational record that’s still not enough.

Given her years as an advocate, Alfano is adept at reading budgets and spreadsheets, but after seeing a tweet from Kathy Flaherty, of Connecticut Legal Rights, she realized that the money allocated to her organization had essentially been cut in half, to roughly $167,000.

Worst case scenario means a cutback in staff, and a cutback in services the bank offers. Alfano estimated that the cut would also mean children won’t get diapers next year -- this during a time when the pandemic has blown a hole in every family’s budget.

“It’s devastating at a time when we should be increasing funding for basic needs,” said Alfano. “We can’t keep up with the calls that we get.”

To survive the pandemic, people who work at non-profits have been continually fund-raising, and when funding is threatened, the wheels turn faster. Cara Rosner, communications manager, sent an email to alert supporters that asked them to reach out to lawmakers. Legislators who’ve shown support in the past - such as Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, D-Berlin, and Rep. William A. Pettit, Jr., R-Plainville - got a phone call, an email, or a text.

And then there was the press, whom Rosner contacted. NBC Connecticut carried a report that included Rep. Pettit saying, among other things, “The timing is not good.” The Diaper Bank has built a base of members of the press who see the importance of diapers, and period and incontinence supplies. Alfano wrote an editorial for Patch.

A spokesman for the governor told NBC, “Historically, the Diaper Bank of Connecticut has been able to raise funds and form private partnerships and we are optimistic a modest reduction in this two-year-old state subsidy will not materially affect the organization."

In between, Alfano gave testimony before the legislative human services committee to talk about the importance of period products. She talked about how pads and tampons are every bit the necessities that are diapers.

“Every community in this state, even before this pandemic, wasn’t meeting all the needs, and now it’s even worse,” said Alfano.

The first time the organization received state funding was 2007. The Great Recession wiped that out. The state legislators granted the organization $333,000 in 2019, a hard-fought amount of money that was the result of a lot of phone calls and meetings. Alfano has testified before legislative committees so many times that she’s had to retire one purple blazer that was her go-to. She has explained the connection of diapers and economic security too many times to count.

Diapers = mobility = access to childcare = access to jobs = access to financial security, or at least gives a person a shot at same. She also talks about, as does a just-released Journal of Pediatrics study from Yale researchers, how the lack of clean diapers contributes to urinary tract infections and diaper dermatitis - diaper rash, which are two of the most common reasons why parents and caregivers take their infants to the pediatrician.

When Gov. Ned Lamont delivered his budget address, he reminded residents that his first priority is “to get Connecticut’s fiscal house in order.” That is a tall order. The state projected deficit for the next two years is more than $1 billion, with a b. In October, a report on the state’s economic outlook from UConn’s Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis began with, “It looks bad.”

“Neither raising taxes nor cutting programs and public sector employment is going to change the projected trajectory,” the report said. The state was struggling already, and the report suggested a recovery would take a decade or more and require significant investment into data, infrastructure, and green energy, among other initiatives.

A state budget is a moral document. It highlights our priorities. You know who said that? Lamont, in his budget address. He said that the budget “is a reflection of our shared values, as we are collectively deciding not only what we are funding, but why we are funding it. It is a document that defines who we are as a state and a society.” And he stressed workforce development and investing in the state’s future.

Another email went out on Wednesday. The legislative appropriations committee will hold a Zoom public hearing at 10 a.m. Wednesday. People who want to testify can register here (

The email included contact information for legislators, and a template for what to say in an email. We can’t, said the email, let a lack of diapers get in the way of employment or education.