Addressing the Diaper Gap: Responsible Government, not the Nanny State

There is a divide in this country between those who believe that charity and philanthropy are all that is demanded of Christians in addressing poverty and those who believe that Christians are called to support both charity and justice, demanding action from not only individual persons and civil society, but government, as well.

The fact-less, ideologically-driven opposition of some who profess to be pro-life to President Obama’s recently announced effort to ensure that more families have access to an adequate number of diapers for their children highlights this divide. For those of an economically libertarian bent, this is the perfect symbol of the overreaching nanny state. For those who believe government plays a critical role in promoting the common good (proponents of Catholic teaching, among others), this program is a good step toward addressing a real problem that demands action.

The reality is that nearly 1 in 3 families struggle to afford the diapers their babies need. And diapers are not a luxury; they are a necessity. When families cannot keep their children in clean diapers, health problems can emerge:

Families who can’t afford enough diapers risk diaper rash and urinary tract infections that can lead to hospital visits, says Megan Smith, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine….

Hard-pressed families she has worked with have tried all kinds of work-arounds: diapering babies in T-shirts, bleaching used diapers to sterilize them, leaving children in dirty diapers just a little longer to stretch a pack. Each of these tactics — as Mora worries when she considers buying the wrong size for her child — comes at a cost to the babies.

“Having to hang a diaper to dry and put it back on your baby is really unimaginable for a mother to think about,” says Kelly Sawyer Patricof, the co-president of Baby2Baby, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that provides diapers and other necessities to families like Mora’s. “But that’s the reality of what’s happening.”

While government assistance to these families helps with many basic needs, diapers are excluded (the “diaper loophole”).To make matters worse, lower income families often pay more for diapers than others, as well:

These choices become even more pressing because the lowest-income quintile of families with infants pay 14 percent of their income for diapers alone – an average of $936 for diapers per child each year, while many higher income families pay less than half that amount. These struggling families may not have access to transportation to the big box store, the credit or capital to buy in bulk at cheaper prices, or the access to internet or ability to receive packages required for online subscription services. The technology that makes life easier for so many of us just doesn’t provide the necessary supports for these families.

The Obama administration has outlined a public-private partnership to address this problem:

A new program will allow families to purchase diapers at up to a 25 percent discount. The program is a collaboration of Jet.com, the makers of Cuties diapers, and a group of non-profit organizations.

The initiative has two main parts. The first allows anyone to purchase discounted diapers through Jet.com. The diapers will come in a package without any advertising or marketing and will include more items per package. The second part gives non-profit groups that help needy families the ability to buy diapers at an even larger discount, as well as free shipping. The organizations that purchase the diapers must have a plan in place to distribute the diapers to low-income, at-need families, either through resell or donations. If they opt to sell the diapers, they must do so at either the same cost or less than what they paid.

This partnership has the potential to do a lot of good, but further action may also be required. Last year, Keith Ellison and Rosa DeLauro of the US House of Representatives introduced the Hygiene Assistance for Families of Infants and Toddlers Act of 2015 (H.R. 4055) to create a demonstration project to allow states to provide diapers or a diaper subsidy for low-income and working families. Hopefully the laboratories of our democracy will seek new, creative ways to ensure every child has the diapers they need. States can also make the decision to stop taxing diapers.

Ultimately everyone should recognize that diapers are a necessity, not a luxury, and that government—whether indirectly or directly—has a responsibility to ensure that every American has access to their most basic needs.


Women Saints: Virgins, Martyrs…and Mothers

Virgin and martyr. These titles are those that the Church has chosen to sum up the crowning achievements of Saint Agatha, whose feast day we celebrated this past Friday. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Catholic traditions surrounding the veneration of saints, labeling a person according to her sexual habits (or lack thereof) and cause of death might seem a peculiar way to extol someone’s holiness. Those who are more familiar, however, likely glance over these designations without giving them a second thought. In fact, it seems like whenever a woman saint’s feast day comes around we are celebrating yet another virgin and martyr.

This preponderance of female virgins and martyrs populating the Church’s liturgical calendar might give one the impression that the only way for a woman to achieve sainthood is to swear off men, die for the faith, or (better yet) both. One might wonder, “What’s up with the Church’s fixation on virginity?” Truth be told, this fascination is not limited to the Catholic Church. In our present day and age, when gratuitous sex is the entertainment industry standard, meeting a virgin—at least for adults in some circles—can seem like the equivalent of encountering an endangered species or perhaps a unicorn. (They do exist!)

Take for example “Jane the Virgin”. This title could easily be lifted from a book on the lives of the saints, but in fact it is a relatively new comedy series. (With witty writing, colorful characters, and hilarious pokes at the telenovela genre, the show is very much worth watching.) Motivated by a childhood promise to her beloved abuela and her desire to avoid repeating her mother’s mistakes, the show’s protagonist has maintained her commitment to save herself until marriage well into her 20s. Needless to say, Jane is quite surprised when she discovers that she is pregnant, as it turns out, on account of an emotionally distraught doctor mistaking Jane for another patient who was supposed to be artificially inseminated.

Throughout the series, other characters are typically shocked when they learn that Jane is a virgin. Even her own mother seems to think it would do Jane good to satisfy her natural desires from time to time. Only her devoutly Catholic grandmother, a relic of an era gone by, unfailingly supports Jane in her (relatively) chaste lifestyle. Despite sometimes feeling like a bit of a freak, Jane is determined to achieve her plans for a perfect life, which she believes would be compromised should she lose her virginity and become pregnant. When she does improbably (miraculously?) become pregnant, Jane is initially distraught. It was all for nothing. Her life is ruined despite all her sacrifices. However, as the series progresses, Jane comes to look upon her motherhood as the greatest blessing of her life. Read More


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Risk of Friendship by Jeffrey Wallace: “That is the blessing, and the risk, of friendship. We give ourselves in vulnerability to one another without knowing whether or not we will be loved and accepted as who we are.”

If Nuns Ruled the World by Jo Piazza: “With seed money from her congregation, Sister Joan officially created LifeWay Network, a nonprofit that would provide housing for victims of trafficking and education about the reality of human trafficking, in 2007. LifeWay’s first challenge was finding an actual house for the survivors, one that they would be able to keep a secret.”

The Clergy Speaks – Father James Martin, SJ by Pete Socks: “What five books would you recommend as must-reads for Catholics today? I left the responses open to current or classic books with the only restriction being that the Bible and the Catechism could not be used as they are a given. This week we welcome Father James Martin, S.J. author and editor at large at America, the national Catholic magazine.”

I Don’t Want to Smell Your Pot Smoke and I Don’t Think it Should Be Legalized by Jennifer Garam: “One person’s ‘right’ to smoke pot shouldn’t trump other people’s right to breathe clean air, or comfortably inhabit the apartment they pay rent for. And I can only imagine that legalizing pot will make it that much more prevalent, and leave those who are affected by the secondhand smoke with that much less recourse to protect themselves.”

There’s Nothing Wrong with the Mommy Track by Rachel Simmons: “Our culture sings in only two keys about how successful women manage motherhood and work: either you’re driving a hard line to the C-suite, parking the crib in your corner office, or you’re shredding the Mommy track. But what about those of us who are still working hard, and who live and work somewhere between the two? I love being a mom, and I also love (and can’t afford not to) work.”

Past time to solve hunger in America by Bob Aiken, Ellie Hollander, Tom Nelson and Lisa Marsh Ryerson: “Hunger in America is a solvable problem through the collaboration of government, industry, nonprofits and generous individuals—but we must do more.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition by Gardiner Harris: “An emerging body of scientific studies suggest that Vivek and many of the 162 millionother children under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less a lack of food than poor sanitation.”

Love People, Not Pleasure by Arthur Brooks: “People who rate materialistic goals like wealth as top personal priorities are significantly likelier to be more anxious, more depressed and more frequent drug users, and even to have more physical ailments than those who set their sights on more intrinsic values.”

How to deal with darkness by Matthew Warner: “If you struggle with pride, fall in love with humility. If you struggle with always being right, explore the wonders and freedom of admitting you’re wrong. If you struggle with lust, learn to value self-control and the dignity of others. If you struggle with envy, embrace admiration. Angry? Binge on forgiveness. Selfish? Commit to serving others.”

Learning from Bodies by Nora Calhoun: “If we let bodies speak to us in their own language, by being present to them and offering the gifts of touch and physical care, we can learn what is truly at stake and why it matters.”

Corrupting citizens for fun and profit by Michael Gerson: “Rather than building social competence and capital, politicians increasingly benefit when citizens are addicted, exploited, impoverished and stoned. And that deserves contempt, not applause.”

The age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism by Anne Manne: “Even thoughts of being wealthy can create a feeling of increased entitlement — you start to feel superior to everyone else and thus more deserving: something at the centre of narcissism. They found this was true of people who were, in real life, better off.”

Parenting with Smartphones by Amber Lapp: “There are no rules, few guidelines to help us set boundaries between work and family life when we work from home. The freedom, the flexibility, the lack of script is both the blessing and the curse.”

Helping girls worldwide requires a united stand by Malala Yousafzai: “We are stronger than those who oppress us, who seek to silence us. We are stronger than the enemies of education. We are stronger than fear, hatred, violence and poverty.”

Choosing Transformational Marriage by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig: “Marriage lasts wherein the couple allow themselves to be transformed by it, and faithfully commit to that transformation, re-orienting the way they relate to one another and the marriage itself by willful habitation to the virtues of charity and kindness.”

Jihadists claim Baghdad blasts as Iraq rallies behind Christians by Jean Marc Mojon: “Until Saturday, there had been a continuous Christian presence in Mosul for about 16 centuries.”

 



Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Bring on the Dogma by Michael Sean Winters: “The mercy of God, the love of God, the human dignity of all, these are the core doctrines that we must embrace and defend, but our defense must be characterized by utter humility in part because we all so easily and so often offend against them!”

Going Home Again by David Brooks: “Sting’s talk was a reminder to go forward with a backward glance, to go one layer down into self and then after self-confrontation, to leap forward out of self. History is filled with revivals, led by people who were reinvigorated for the future by a reckoning with the past.”

How Bashar al-Assad created the feared shabiha militia: an insider speaks by The Telegraph: “A former Assad regime insider has given the first direct account of how Syria’s ruling family created the feared shabiha militia that is blamed for some of the worst atrocities of the civil war, and gave it orders to kill or torture anti-regime protesters.”

Emerging Adulthood: A Luxury Good by Anna Sutherland: “As Kendig, Mattingly, and Bianchi conclude, their findings imply that young adults from lower-income families need more support as they pursue a college education or job training, and they could benefit from earlier training in financial literacy as they contribute to their families’ income at younger ages.”

The Central African Republic has become a nightmare for Muslims by Peter Bouckaert: “The Catholics’ humanity, courage and leadership stand out amid the slaughter. They are virtually alone in trying to protect the vulnerable. France and the African Union have deployed thousands of peacekeepers; the United States and other governments have provided support to the peacekeeping mission. But their efforts to protect civilians pale next to the bravery exhibited by these clergy.”

Europe’s bishops: Politics needs to focus its attention on the common good by Vatican Insider: “The bishops ended their statement with a direct appeal: ‘We, Catholic Bishops, would plead that the European project not be put at risk nor abandoned under current duress.’”

Abby Huntsman wants to lead her own generation into poverty by Michael Hiltzik: “Huntsman has stitched her spiel together out of scraps and tatters of misinformation, of a sort we’ve heard from the older generation for years. They’re no more accurate coming out the mouths of a “millennial.” But it’s tragic to see that what she’s learned from her elders is how to mislead her public.”

Christians, Muslims join anti-slavery campaign by AP: “Christians and Muslims have joined to try to help free millions of men, women and children held in modern-day slavery, forced to work as maids, prostitutes, child soldiers and manual laborers. The Global Freedom Network launched Monday at the Vatican aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor.”

Best practices for charity and justice by Jack Jezreel, US Catholic: “Those in our parishes who work on issues related to human trafficking, for example, should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those dedicated to issues related to mental illness. Those focused on environmental care should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those focused on reducing abortions. Those who work on domestic issues in partnership with Catholic Charities should celebrate—not diminish—those who work on international issues in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.”

Love vs. Pornography by Bishop Paul Loverde: “Very often, a key factor in one’s descent into pornography addiction is a lack of affirmation, acceptance, and trust in one’s relationships. An important part of the ascent, then, can also be the sharing of this struggle with others, allowing their love and concern to aid in the healing.”

A Genius for Friendship by John Padberg, SJ: “Peter began to help Ignatius in his studies; Ignatius slowly became a dear friend and counselor to whom Faber unburdened his troubled inner life. Ignatius could understand it well; he had experienced the same trials of scruples, temptations, uncertainties that had long bedeviled Peter. These burdens never completely left Faber, but he learned from Ignatius both how to deal with them and how to help others in the same circumstances.”

Pope Francis: Style, substance and a man for others by Stephen Kent: “His remarks — critical of the “throwaway culture” and his skepticism about “trickle-down economics” ever reaching the poor — have captured headlines, as has his demand for a direct encounter with the poor.”


Around the Web (Part 2)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Compassion Gap by Nicholas Kristof: “There is an income gap in America, but just as important is a compassion gap. Plenty of successful people see a picture of a needy child and their first impulse is not to help but to reproach.”

Arizona’s SB 1062 by Michael Sean Winters: “This law has not been advanced at this moment to remedy a constitutional infirmity. It has been advanced by those who oppose gay marriage and wish to enshrine the right of a baker or a photographer to refuse service to a gay or lesbian couple that is getting married. The text of the law may not target gays. The political intent clearly does. And, that is why it was a mistake for the Arizona bishops to voice their support for it.”

A Letter to My American Sisters by Fawzia Koofi: “The women of my country and I also remain hopeful that the international community, including the United States, will not abandon our country and will help us a little more in fighting extremism, consolidating our gains, moving toward ending violence against women, and achieving something that all women around the world want: equality for both genders and for all.”

The right’s Ayn Rand hypocrisy by Elizabeth Stoker: “Rand’s entire notion of morality is predicated upon the idea that a sacrifice such as Christ’s would be morally wrong, which means all ethics that flow out of her work will contain in them that seed of conflict with the central message of Christianity. Whether conservatives like it or not, to advance a Randian political ethic is to further an ethic that fundamentally denies the goodness of the sacrifice of Christ, and thereby can never be brought to union with any serious Christian ethics.”

Surprisingly, Most Married Families Today Tilt Neo-Traditional by W. Bradford Wilcox, Family Studies: “Public policies and cultural norms related to work and family should be geared toward maximizing flexibility, rather than locking in approaches geared to serving full-time, dual-income families, and toward renewing the employment opportunities of poor and working-class men who have become less “marriageable” in recent years.”

Some Catholic leaders need to follow Pope Francis’ lead by John Gehring, NCR: “Pope Francis has brought an unexpected season of renewal and hope for the Catholic Church not because he is a liberal or a conservative. He is inspiring so many because he acts like a Christian should act. Not a bad starting point for Catholic clergy and anyone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Christ.”

Creating the Peace Corps and Finding a Saint by Jason Welle, SJ, TJP: “The founding director of Peace Corps and the person largely responsible for creating these life-changing possibilities was Sargent Shriver, the president’s brother-in-law. Shriver was a man deeply rooted in his Catholicism, and his faith – especially a commitment to social justice – motivated not only his involvement in the early years in the Peace Corps, but all of his commitments in life.”

The Protection of the Church by William Saletan: “This is what happens in many parts of the world. Even in the midst of religious war, religious institutions provide the moral strength to contain the violence. Faith in transcendent values counters sectarian hatred.”

God or the god of Riches? by Dan Horan: “Ultimately, I believe, the issue is between God and us, between serving the will of God or serving our own will. It is between putting our desires and interests first and putting first the Kingdom of God.”

Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda by Timothy Snyder: “Whatever course the Russian intervention may take, it is not an attempt to stop a fascist coup, since nothing of the kind has taken place. What has taken place is a popular revolution, with all of the messiness, confusion, and opposition that entails.”