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Even with the shutdown over, some federal employees still can’t afford diapers as they await paychecks

Lisa Oksala volunteers on Friday at the D.C. Diaper Bank, which joins others across the country in providing diapers, wipes and feminine supply products to government workers, who haven’t received a paycheck since December.
Lisa Oksala volunteers on Friday at the D.C. Diaper Bank, which joins others across the country in providing diapers, wipes and feminine supply products to government workers, who haven’t received a paycheck since December. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The partial government shutdown is over — at least for the next few weeks — but that did not matter to the group unloading thousands of diapers off a truck at Reagan National Airport on Sunday morning, a donation that aims to help Transportation Security Administration workers and others who still have not received a paycheck since December.

Federal employees likely will have to wait until late this week to get paid after missing two paychecks in January. The pause in cash flow has left many reliant on food banks and unable to afford life’s basic necessities, including diapers, tampons, maxi pads and adult incontinence products, all of which are expensive and nearly impossible to do without.

At least 20 diaper banks across the country have provided diapers, feminine and incontinence products, formula and more to federal employees during the shutdown and in the few days since Congress and President Trump agreed to reopen the government. Diaper banks started to receive calls for help in mid-January, and the entreaties became more and more desperate the longer the shutdown went on, according to organization officials. The requests continue even though the government is set to reopen, and groups are planning to hand out diapers and other products this week.

“While the government is now open, no one has received a paycheck yet and likely won’t until mid- or late this week,” said Corinne Cannon, founder and executive director of the Greater D.C. Diaper Bank. “Babies need diapers now, women need period products now.”

Cannon and others from the diaper bank spent Sunday morning driving to the region’s three airports: National, Dulles and BWI. They delivered more than 45,000 diapers, 21,000 period products and 3,780 incontinence products to employees at the three airports. Last week, the organization gave out more than 45,000 diapers and 90,000 feminine products to federal employees and members of the Coast Guard.

At National Airport, a man and a woman guided a pallet filled with diapers decorated with prints of Mickey Mouse and Elmo up a loading dock and into one of the terminals. There, federal employees placed different sizes, from newborn to size six, on carts to make it easier for parents to take what they need. The donation provides enough diapers to cover each child for two weeks.

“It’s a ripple effect,” said Aubrey Farrar, an air traffic control specialist and president of the airport’s chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “A lot of the controllers have kids, and they’re the sole provider for families.”

Even with shutdown deal, federal workers probably won’t see back pay until next week

The diaper bank spent the past week giving out supplies to federal workers, doling out tens of thousands of diapers and maxi pads; the organization ran out of tampons on the first day. It set up a table at World Central Kitchen’s #ChefsforFeds pop-up kitchen in downtown Washington, which offered free lunch, vegetables, fruit and pet food to anyone with a federal work ID. The line snaked around the corner of the building, nearly to the street. It will remain open this week.

Diaper banks around the country said missing a second paycheck on Friday, and the continued lack of pay, is causing federal employees to reach out for help. Disposable diapers cost families about $70 to $80 each month, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.

“When you’re a month plus without being paid, even if you have savings, it’s stressful. But so many people are more paycheck to paycheck, and at that point it starts getting a little more desperate,” said Liz Muth, development and community outreach manager at Hope Supply in Dallas, which also has given out hygiene supplies including soap and toothbrushes. Most federal workers, she said, have found it difficult and demoralizing to ask for help because they are employed — and in some cases still working — yet cannot afford crucial everyday supplies.

“You can’t expect your baby to sit in a dirty diaper because you couldn’t afford to run to the store and buy more,” Muth said.

Michelle Old, founder and executive director of the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, said the organization has received about 100 calls per week from federal employees and military families since mid-January.

The organization has long helped military families; each month it sends a tractor-trailer to Fort Bragg and distributes diapers to about 800 military families who have trouble affording them.

Old said the diaper bank plans to have a drive for federal employees on Wednesday and will distribute at three Coast Guard bases in North Carolina.

“Families are really struggling, and they heard that the pay will not get to them for some time, and they are recovering from lost wages,” Old said. “We all know that the government being open doesn’t put dollars in checking accounts right away. Families still need our support right now.”

Diaper banks typically help low-income families who have trouble affording diapers and wipes, which are not covered by food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

Many diaper banks are treating the shutdown as they would a natural disaster — they are helping those in need immediately and will figure out if they need to do additional fundraising later. Many banks prefer monetary donations because they can buy diapers in bulk; they also often need larger-size diapers and pullups.

Troy Moore, a spokesman for the National Diaper Bank Network, said GoFundMe has pledged to donate money from its Government Shutdown Direct Relief Fund fundraiser to the diaper bank network.

“This is much like a natural disaster, where families are being thrust into situational poverty,” Moore said. “It is totally unexpected, like if a hurricane or wildfire hit. It’s affecting their incomes and abilities to care for their families.”