U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would provide $200 million in emergency funds to diaper banks that have experienced unprecedented demand during the pandemic.

Members of the National Diaper Bank Network are on track to distribute millions more diapers this year than ever before, with local diaper banks distributing an average of 50 percent more diapers each month. The need for diaper assistance is not expected to lessen any time soon.

In the last nine months of 2020, the Portland-based diaper bank operated by Michael Klahr Jewish Family Services, part of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, distributed roughly 500,000 diapers to local families, a sharp increase from the nearly 300,000 it typically hands out each year.

“Diaper banks play a critical role in our communities by helping families keep their babies healthy and safe. These nonprofits distribute tens of millions of diapers annually, but the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have created unprecedented demand for these services,” Collins said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill would support struggling families who are in critical need of diaper assistance as we continue to combat COVID-19.”

Diaper need – the lack of a sufficient supply of diapers to keep a baby or toddler clean, dry and healthy – is a very real problem for many Americans, but is rarely talked about, according to health experts and advocates. The problem has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has put more financial strain on already struggling families and periodically led to empty diaper shelves at stores.

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, 1 in 3 families in the United States report experiencing diaper need.

“The challenge of access to diapers affects thousands of families across the state of Maine, and we have seen the need increase exponentially over the past year. Diapers are expensive, and cannot be purchased through SNAP or other federal or state benefit programs,” Molly Curren Rowles, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, said in a statement. “Dedicated funding will allow us to continue to keep pace with the growing need, ensuring that this critical item is available for babies and young children so they can grow in health and security.”

Last year, Collins, a Maine Republican, was part of bipartisan group of senators that introduced a resolution to recognize the importance of diaper banks across the country and the important role they plan in the aftermath of natural disasters.

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