A partnership between the Diaper Bank of Connecticut and the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut bore fruit last week when the two organizations jointly released a report on the economic impact of the diaper bank’s operations in the state.

The report found that the Diaper Bank’s distribution of free diapers to low-income families is associated with increases in the personal income of recipients, the elimination of medical expenses and increases in state tax revenue. Titled “Better Health for Children and Increased Economic Opportunities for Families: The Social and Economic Impacts of the Diaper Bank of Connecticut,” the report was co-authored by CCEA Director Fred Carstensen and Peter Gunther, a senior research fellow with the organization.

“We knew anecdotally that diapers provide a positive economic impact to the community, but we wanted to quantify that,” said Joanne Goldblum, the CEO of the National Diaper Bank Network, of which The Diaper Bank of Connecticut is a member.

The Diaper Bank works with a broad range of community organizations in Connecticut that serve low-income families, including food pantries, Head Start programs and faith-based organizations, to distribute clean diapers to families. According to the report, 92 percent of families receiving diapers from the Diaper Bank reported incomes of less than $40,000 a year, or about 160 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three.

Janet Stolfi Alfano, the executive director of the Diaper Bank of Connecticut, described diaper need as something “that might seem small and insignificant, but can have a magnifying impact,” noting that diapers are not covered by existing subsidies for low-income families, like food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

One magnifying impact is the fact that diaper need can cause parents to miss work or school. According to the report, 56 percent of recipient parents who rely on child care while at work have missed work due to a lack of diapers. Families typically need to provide a steady stream of clean diapers in order to bring their children to child care facilities, Alfano said, and not being able to afford diapers could mean they must miss work to stay home with their children.

The National Diaper Bank Network reached out to the CCEA about participating in an economic report in 2016. Along with staff at the NDBN, Alfano created a survey tool to distribute to clients through its partner agencies. The CCEA analyzed the 752 responses — which represent about one quarter of the Diaper Bank’s recipients — according to the Regional Economic Model Inc.’s dynamic equilibrium model.

Gunther, one of the co-authors of the report, explained that the REMI model takes into account the “incremental value” created through the Diaper Bank’s operations. He described “two streams of benefits,” the first of which, he said, includes parents who benefit economically by not missing work. The second stream includes parents still in school who also benefit economically in the long run from completing their educational programs.

“Each of the streams contribute to increased consumption either immediately if they’re in the working group, or subsequently down the road if they’re in the education stream,” Gunther said.

In addition to their economic findings, the report authors found that providing families with clean diapers reduced incidences of health problems like diaper rash and urinary tract infections. According to the report, this reduction in health problems saved over $397,333 annually by obviating the need for the necessary medical care.

Gunther said he was surprised by the level of poverty he observed in the questionnaires. “That was a bit of an eye-popper in terms of just how needed these kinds of activities really are,” he said.

While Alfano and her colleagues had heard anecdotally from families about the value of the program, she said, she was surprised by the “extent and magnitude” of the economic impact. She said the Diaper Bank hopes to use the report as a tool to show potential funders the impact of their work.

The Diaper Bank of Connecticut was established in 2004.

Talia Soglin | talia.soglin@yale.edu