Social Security Administration Backs Off Text Messaging Mandate

August 16, 2016

Turns out I was far from the only one upset by the Social Security Administration’s decision to block access to online accounts for people without text-enabled cell phones. The Tennessean reports that the agency faced such a backlash that it’s made the extra protection optional.

“The policy impacted not only those who don’t text message, but also people who live in rural areas with limited cell phone service,” says a Congress member who represents one of those areas.

Two other Tennessee Congress members weigh in too. We can, I think, assume that SSA heard from a broader swath of members, responding to constituents’ concerns — and from other quarters too.

The agency hasn’t yet told us online account users that we don’t have to have text messaging. Presumably it will. And we’ll reportedly have another way to ensure that we’re the people accessing our accounts within six months.

So all’s well that ends well, assuming that the new option doesn’t impose other burdens. We’ll nevertheless endure long wait times when we need services only staff can provide. Nothing SSA can do about that.

 


A Missing Father’s Day Gift: Reforms to Flawed Child Support System

June 20, 2016

Roughly 5 million fathers* in this country owed child support three years ago, but only somewhat over 3.7 million paid even part of what they owed. Nearly one in five didn’t pay anything at all.

Some may truly have been deadbeat dads — fathers who chose not to pay. But studies suggest that more were “dead broke, not deadbeat,” as a recent CLASP presentation puts it. If not dead broke, then still saddled with child support obligations beyond their means.

The Obama administration could have given these dads an overdue Father’s Day gift — a final rule to update the child support enforcement system.

But the dads are every bit as vulnerable to unaffordable — and escalating — child support obligations as they were when the window for commenting on the proposed rule closed seventeen months ago.

It would benefit both the fathers who owe child support — or will — and the mothers and children who need their support. Here’s how.

More Realistic Support Orders. States may base child support obligations on what parents can potentially earn if they’re unemployed or underemployed, i.e., earning less than the decision-makers believe they could.

The notion here is that some dads deliberately choose poverty or near-poverty to shirk their child support responsibilities. Or they work off the books to hide what they earn.

Using so-called imputed income, rather than what fathers demonstrably earn is obviously problematic — perhaps especially so for those in low-wage jobs because what they earn is an iffy calculation.

How much, for example, can a restaurant worker or department store clerk earn when so many retail businesses cut their hours back without warning? How much when businesses of various sorts hire extra workers when they need them and let them go when they don’t?

The proposed rule would require states to use actual earnings and income as the basis for setting child support awards. They would also have to ensure that awards leave non-custodial parents enough to pay for basic needs, e.g., food, housing.

Less Counterproductive Penalties. States obviously have to base support orders on some calculation of ability to pay. If fathers truly can’t comply, they have some obligations to modify the orders.

But they often don’t. In fact, they sometimes make matters worse. They impose fines, for example, increasing the debt — and thus the likelihood that fathers will fall further behind.

They may suspend drivers’ licenses, making it impossible for the dads to get to work — or do work that requires driving. They may suspend occupational licenses, which so many jobs now require.

States may also jeopardize a dad’s job by garnishing his wages, i.e., requiring his employer to send a portion to the agency that distributes child support.

They may send the dad to jail — obviously making work impossible. Yet penalties for nonpayment mount up because courts sometimes treat incarceration as voluntary unemployment. (Not a joke.)

When the dad returns to the community, he’ll have a criminal record — a major barrier to getting hired, as we know. Some dads do get new jobs, however — and then find themselves back in jail because they’re unable to pay off the accumulated child support they owe.

Even dads who’ve spent no time behind bars may have a hard time landing jobs because their child support debt damages their credit record — something else many employers check and use to screen out applicants who’d otherwise qualify.

The proposed rule would limit cases where a parent in arrears is jailed. Beyond that, it would encourage, but not require states to consider a parent’s basic needs before doing other things that would tend to make his financial situation worse.

More Help for Increasing Income. One obvious way to make meaningful child support payments affordable for low-income parents is to help them find decent-paying jobs.

The proposed rule would allow states to use some of the child support enforcement funds they receive for a range of job services, e.g., training, help with job searches, subsidies for work-related costs like transportation and tools.

A nine-state study by the Urban Institute found that non-custodial parents who collectively owed more than half the unpaid total in 2006 had little or no income states could identify — at most, $10,000 a year.

Those with no reported income were expected to pay a median of $217 a month in child support, according to a prior Institute study. About the same for those whose median monthly income was $293.

You can’t get blood out of a turnip, as the saying goes. And heaping fines on top of fines, tossing dads in jail, perhaps charging them for court costs and/or upkeep there won’t extract a drop. But enabling them to earn enough to make paying child support feasible surely would.

Better for Mothers and Children, As Well As Fathers. Enabling poor and near-poor fathers to find — and keep — jobs that pay enough for them to meet their child support obligations without foregoing food, housing and the like would seem like a no-brainer.

Making support orders more realistic and confining penalties to genuine deadbeats might, however, seem to let fathers off the hook at the expense of their children and the mothers who are raising them.

But, as the National Council of State Legislatures says, those mothers and children generally aren’t getting anything from low-income fathers now.

Holding them accountable for something they can’t do only discourages them from trying, the head of the federal Child Support Enforcement Office suggests.

Some studies have linked regular child support payments to fathers’ continuing involvement in their children’s lives, including one that suggests payments increase contacts over time. That would seem generally a good thing for both dads and kids.

Outraged Congressional Republicans, however, view the proposed rule as a threat to personal responsibility and “strong families” — not to mention their prerogatives as policymakers. They’ve moved to block the administration from issuing a final version — or making any part effective by other means.

Might this explain why another Father’s Day has passed without child support reform? We outsiders don’t know. But whatever the reason, it’s a sad thing.

* The Census Bureau report I’ve used doesn’t include figures for non-custodial parents who owe child support. It does, however, provide them for custodial mothers owed child support and what portion, if any they received. I’ve used these to back into the figures for fathers.


Not All Single Mothers Are Alike … or All Really Single

May 5, 2016

Mother’s Day weekend seems a good time for another post on single mothers — a topic that consistently brings more Googlers to my blog than almost any other.

I’m taking a different approach than I did in the past because much of what one finds in public sources is muddled — and so the solution wrong-headed.

We see right-wing conservatives still promoting marriage as a key to ending poverty. And not only them. The center-left Brookings Institution joined with the center-right American Enterprise Institute to produce an anti-poverty plan. It too endorses promoting marriage.

Both the muddle and the marriage promotion stem in part from the same source — a conflation of single motherhood with unplanned out-of-wedlock births. They also reflect some incontrovertible data and some controversial studies linking single-parent families to bad outcomes for kids.

The data come from the Census Bureau. Year after year, it reports far higher percents of single-mother families in poverty than married couples with minor-age children in the same financial straits.

The assumption then is that single mothers and their children would be better off if married. Which leads to the further assumption that single mothers became mothers without first marrying — and did so accidentally. Neither reflects the realities of our society — perhaps even less than in the past.

We’ve got research now, for example, that flips cause and effect. Kathryn Edin, who actually lived in poor communities and got to know women there, found that they would have chosen marriage if they’d found a suitable spouse — specifically, a reliable, clean-living, nonviolent breadwinner. Severe shortage, as Edin explains.

The women had children anyway because they wanted them and saw no point in delaying motherhood, feeling they’d be poor no matter what. Children, in fact, satisfied a felt need for meaning in life.

I want, however, to focus on the second pair of assumptions. As my title suggests, not all single mothers are alike. That is, they’re not all single and mothers for the same reasons. And, as it also suggests, they’re not all single — at least, from their point of view.

First off, single mothers include those who got divorced or became widows and didn’t remarry. Many, but far from all live in poverty — because they’re not getting much, if anything by way of child support, in the former cases, or Social Security benefits for their children, in the latter.

Some would be no better off if they still had a husband in the house. Nor would their children. We still see the term “deadbeat dads” used to refer to absent fathers who choose not to pay child support.

But live-in husbands can be deadbeats too. Guys who could, but don’t work or even try to. Guys who do work, but use what they earn to buy alcohol, drugs, fancy clothes for themselves, etc. So the home is rife with stress and anger — violence too perhaps. The children suffer. The mom opts for peace and control of the cash flow.

Then we’ve got mothers who aren’t legally married, but live with a partner in a relationship that’s for all intents and purposes a marriage, though with the advantages our laws confer on spouses.

We’ve got more so-called cohabiting couples now than even a generation ago. This, it seems, is at least in part because young adults no longer view marriage as a “cornerstone,” but as a “capstone” — something to postpone until they’re sure they’re ready and “have all their ducks lined up.”

But they’re not delaying parenthood. The share of births to cohabiting mothers increased from 6% in the early 1980s to 25% in 2009-13, according to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research.

It distinguishes these mothers from single mothers, but they’re officially single nonetheless. They’re different, the Center for American Progress says, because cohabitation is typically “a transitional stage” — either a prelude to a first marriage or an interlude before a second.

That may be more than case now than it was only a few years ago because same-sex couples can now legally marry. Still, we need to recognize lesbians in long-standing domestic relationships who chose to become mothers.

They’re not the only single women who became mothers by choice. As you may have read, the teen birthrate is dropping. At the same time, the out-of-wedlock birthrate among women 35 and older has risen.

We know anecdotally that some wanted to have children for quite awhile and figured that marriage just wasn’t in the cards — or that it wasn’t what they wanted before their biological clock ticked further past their prime childbearing years.

So, for them, a sort of planned parenthood we don’t ordinarily think of when we hear the term — thanks to the wonders of medical technology.

Other women in their mid-thirties become single mothers in a different way. A dear friend of mine, for example, wanted to raise a child, saw no prospect of marriage and discovered she was infertile.

So she adopted a baby left with an agency by a mother who couldn’t care for him, confident that she had the financial and personal resources, including a close-knit family to give him a secure, loving childhood.

Another single woman I know — the successful head of her own professional services firm — recently a adopted a baby for similar reasons. They’re not the only single women who’ve made this choice — some, in fact, when considerably older.

Our country does a lousy job of supporting mothers — and to that extent, a lousy job of supporting children in any sort of family. An especially lousy job of supporting single mothers and their children, as their unusually high poverty rates indicate.

Single mothers, unlike their married counterparts, still get a bad rap for having failed to exercise personal responsibility, driving up safety-net costs, crime and other social ills.

I’d rather celebrate them in all their variety. Better, I think, than conceding Mother’s Day to Hallmark, Teleflora and the perfume and candy purveyors.


What’s Wrong With Me and My Life?

December 29, 2015

I’ve pretty well given up on New Year’s resolutions because I found myself vowing to do — or stop doing — the same things year after year. Still, I can’t altogether shake the hopes of improving myself that surface as we ring in the new.

Thankfully, I’ve no need to engage in deep self-scrutiny or seek out a self-help program. My inbox receives an overwhelming (literally) amount of spam.* I see major themes in the messages — most pointing to things wrong with me and my life and offering quick fixes.

My Sex Life. I’m impotent, according to the spammers — or at least, unable to maintain an erection. I’m constantly offered opportunities to buy Viagra at a discount. Several similar products also. I’m invited to buy something else that will actually enlarge my penis. “Power in your pants!”

On the other hand, maybe I’m just bored. No problem. I can meet some “cheating wives” in my local area. Or I can get a “mistress for Christmas.” The Russian girls who used to write me seem to have given up.

But I’m invited to “CONNECT … with charming Mrs. Celestia Betterton” — obviously a classy British type. “Click bellow [stet],” she says, to view her private photos.

My Health. My body is riddled with health problems, judging from the spam. High blood sugar level, high cholesterol level too, ringing in the ears, dimming vision and more. I’m especially sensitive about my loss of brain function and expanding waistline.

Fortunately, there are remedies for these, as well as all the other conditions. And if I don’t altogether trust them, I can get a great deal on burial insurance.

My Finances. My investment portfolio is apparently too conservative. I get opportunities to buy some bargain-basement stock that’s about to take off, usually at least one a day.

But she who hesitates, as conservative investors do, loses. So I’m not going to get in on “the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” which I could have owned “a piece” of for only about 21 cents.

The real solution, as I learn from another spammer, is to “reprogram … [my] mind and stick the enter Wealth Code into … [my] brain.” Presto, the Millionaire Mindset — “the secret of becoming wealthy.”

My Career Path. My earning power isn’t what it could be either. I should increase it by taking an online doctoral degree. “Invest in your future,” the spammers urge.

Or I could effortlessly learn a new language in a mere 10 days. All I need is a CD to activate some “wired part” of my brain — assuming, of course, that the part isn’t one of those that’s degenerating.

There’s a remedy for that, however. No less a leading light than Pope Francis has increased his brain power by taking some pills. “I use these to keep my intelligence about 150,” he reportedly says.

On the other hand, maybe my professional life is in good shape, since I’ve been chosen for inclusion in a Global Who’s Who.

Things Beyond My Control. We’re well advised to accept the things we cannot change. There are surely many of those, but several I’d never have heard of without the benefits of spam.

For example, there’s a “massive war on U.S. soil” — or soon will be. I could sign up for a new home security system or buy a flag. Steady spam streams for both. But they seem pretty futile defenses in the face of the war.

More insidious because clearly underway is a “secret conspiracy between the U.S. government and some food producers — so shocking that Fox News wouldn’t report it.” But since word has leaked out, the President could face impeachment. “This could be the one that finally brings him down.”

Grant me the serenity to accept these terrifying threats — and the lack of curiosity to click.

And grant us all faith that the violence, suffering and social injustices we witness are within our collective control, though not swiftly banished with a click.

* The spam-flooded email box is for an account I no longer use, but check to make sure I don’t miss any must-read messages. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether these are among them.


Homelessness Causes More Deaths Than We Know, But We Know There Could Be Fewer

December 17, 2015

Tonight will be the longest night of the year. Here in the District of Columbia and in other communities across the country people will gather to share memories of homeless people who died during the year.

The National Coalition for the Homeless and partners invented National Homeless Memorial Day many years ago to focus attention on homeless people who died on the streets or the equivalent — and to strengthen our collective commitment to ending homelessness.

We don’t know how many homeless people died unnecessarily since last December. And we’ll never know how many future Memorial Days should commemorate, let alone who they were.

Knowing what we do know, we can guess that some froze to death in remote fields or abandoned shacks or died because they were so weakened by lack of food or untreated illness or injuries. Some perhaps died in fires they started to keep themselves warm and then couldn’t control.

Even in metro areas, homelessness is rarely, if ever the official cause of death. The same conditions I’ve just cited would be the causes, not homelessness itself.

This is also true for the fatal acts of violence that NCH periodically reports as a subset of hate crimes against homeless people.

The results of the acts — death from blood loss and injuries caused by a beating, for example — would be the cause, not homelessness, though that made the victims singularly vulnerable and even targets chosen for no other reason.

So the District’s evening memorial ceremony will include a reading of at least 41 names, most of people who died on the streets. But this doesn’t mean they were the only homeless people who died — and wouldn’t have if they’d had a safe place to stay.

Quite a damper on the holiday mood, I realize — and somewhat inconsistent with the commemorative nature of the rituals. So let’s look at the flip side.

We know that fewer homeless people would needlessly die if they could bed down in a shelter — and would go to a shelter rather than sleep on a park bench, under a bridge or some other “place not meant for human habitation.”

And we know that many won’t go because they object to the unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the shelters they could get into. Homeless individuals in the District have voiced additional griefs, as perhaps those elsewhere have as well.

Yet even in the best of cases, shelters are a makeshift sort of answer to problems indicated by the mortality rate of homeless people, i.e., the number who die within some predetermined period of time.

It’s four to nine times the rate for housed people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. As one might expect, it cites health-related causes, e.g., exposure to infectious diseases, chronic illnesses, “poor mental health.” But it acknowledges violence too.

The obvious answer for most homeless people is simply housing at a rent they can afford. No more exposure to tuberculosis, for example, or to gun violence and random beatings than any of the rest of us risk when we venture out.

But for some, the better answer is permanent supportive housing — and more particularly PSH based on the Housing First model.

Housing First is the best answer for chronically homeless people, i.e., those who’ve been homeless for a long time or recurrently and have a disability (or disabilities). That, at any rate, is what both such research as we have and other evidence tell us.

As its name suggests, Housing First provides chronically homeless people with a safe, stable place of their own without requiring them to prove they deserve it — by successfully completing a substance abuse program, for example, or by agreeing to participate in one.

They are, however, offered services to overcome disabling substance abuse problems, as well as other services that can help them become healthier — and, in some cases, ultimately able to join (or rejoin) the workforce.

Not all Housing First participants can, however, become so financially self-sufficient as to afford rent at market rates. Many need long-term subsidized housing, though not an ongoing, intensive battery of supportive services.

This seems the case with a formerly homeless homeless advocate in the District who’s familiar to those of us who attend meetings, hearings and the like.

He often says that Housing First saved his life. Living on the streets, as he was, he couldn’t control his diabetic condition or other chronic illnesses in part because he had no safe, cool place to store his medications.

Even if he had, the pressures and chaos of street living — the need to somehow get enough food for the day and lug his belongings from one place to another — may have made it all but impossible for him to follow his medication schedule or resist the addiction to alcohol that led to his homelessness.

In short, he could have been one of the homeless people memorialized. Instead, he’s an active member of the People for Fairness Coalition, which has spearheaded a follow-on to this evening’s vigil.

PFFC members and others will march to the plaza across from the building that houses the Mayor’s executive office the the DC Council tomorrow morning. They will call on policymakers to, among other things, end chronic homelessness before 2018, as the local Interagency Council on Homelessness envisions.

The need is surely there. Last January’s one-night count identified 1,593 chronically homeless single individuals who had, at best, beds in shelters or temporary housing.

The current budget will fund PSH for 363 more such individuals, as well as 11o families with at least one chronically homeless member. So The Way Home, as the local Housing First campaign is called, has a long way to go.

But we see progress here, which is more than can be said for many communities, including a goodly number where homeless people die neglected and one one even takes account of them.

 


Dysfunction, the Debt Ceiling and Other Derelictions of Duty

October 15, 2015

It’s hard for someone of my political proclivities not to relish the manifest dysfunctions in the Republican party. But they also make me very anxious.

Like many of you, I suppose, I’m sick to death of reading what Trump said about immigrants, Carson about Muslims, Bush about voting rights and folks who line up for “free stuff,” etc. I nevertheless relish the thought of the voters they’re alienating.

Yet I can’t help worrying that the Republican nominee might win because the alienated voters are so alienated from our political process that they won’t go to the polls. Can hardly bear to think who that might be.

More immediately, it’s the warring factions in the House Republican majority that make me anxious. It’s one thing for the ultra-right to insist on yet another vote to repeal Obamacare. But to take such uncompromising stances that they drive out a very conservative speaker — and stymie the effort to replace him — is, to me, downright scary.

Because we can’t have laws unless the House passes them. And we urgently need some.

The most urgent is a bill that raises the ceiling on the amount of debt the federal government can incur. Without it, the government will default on debts it’s already incurred, i.e., interest and/or principal it owes on bonds it’s issued.

Either that or it will have to drastically and immediately cut spending, which will mean default of a different sort.

State and local governments won’t receive funds they’ve rightly counted on for a wide variety of programs and services. Contractors won’t get paid for goods they’ve supplied or work they’ve performed — and thus may not have the funds to pay their employees and subcontractors.

Seniors and younger people with severe disabilities won’t get their Social Security benefits. Healthcare services they’ve received as Medicare beneficiaries won’t get reimbursed. Nor will doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers who’ve treated people covered by Medicaid.

Veterans will get stiffed too. Likewise the 45.5 million or so people who depend on SNAP (food stamp) benefits to stave off hunger.

Not all these suspended payments may be needed to keep the debt below the current ceiling. But it’s unclear whether the Treasury Department can pick and choose. A Credit Suisse newsletter issued when we’d hit the debt ceiling two years ago suggested it couldn’t.

And even if it could, how could the administration responsibly decide who should get paid and who not?

One way or the other, everyday people would suffer harms — and in more ways than the foregoing indicates. Investors would, of course, decide that Treasury bonds weren’t a safe harbor for their money. So they’d require a higher interest rate on new bonds.

That would produce a ripple effect on other interests rates. Businesses might then pull back on borrowing for investments that create jobs.

Anybody who can’t pay cash on the barrel head — to replace a defunct car, for example, or buy a house — would face a more costly loan.

Lots of people who carry credit card debt would have to pay higher interest rates because charges are often linked to what banks charge on corporate loans.

Well, this may be apocalyptic thinking. The House will have a speaker because Boehner’s said he’ll stay on till his caucus chooses someone else. And he can readily get a bipartisan debt ceiling bill passed by allowing a vote when a majority of his own party won’t get on board.

So could his successor, if Republicans find one who suits enough of them well enough — and who agrees to accept the job — before the early November drop-dead date on the debt ceiling.

Whether s/he would breach the so-called Hastert rule, however, is an open question. The Freedom Caucus — the immediate source of the disarray — reportedly won’t vote for speaker who doesn’t pledge to abide by it. This and many other things.

Say, as I think we can, that House Republicans don’t plunge us into a genuine debt crisis. We’ll just move on to the next — the mid-December expiration of the continuing resolution that’s the reason we haven’t already had a government shutdown.

Look for another cliffhanger, as the hard-line right-wingers, plus some other members who’ve got particular axes to grind refuse to vote for a budget the Senate can pass — and the President will sign.

Wiser heads may again prevail, since Republicans got blamed for the last shutdown. But one never knows. And one surely doesn’t know what sort of deal Republican Congressional leaders and the White House will broker to either avert a shutdown or end it.

What we can, I think, know is that the uncompromising stances we’re witnessing bode fill for policies and programs that significantly affect poor and near-poor people — both those that shield them from utter destitution and those that give them a fair shot at more secure, fulfilling lives.

So much neglected business on both fronts. Overdue reforms to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, for example. A fix to prevent major upcoming cuts to benefits for severely-disabled former workers and their dependents. Fixes to prevent later cuts to Social Security retirement benefits.

A replacement for No Child Left Behind that preserves the focus on equal educational opportunity, but without the unintended incentives to “teach to the test” — and test overmuch. The approaching end of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Well, I could go on, but I think the point is made. All these issues — and others awaiting action — are complex. And people of good will have different views on what our federal policies should be. Nothing new about this, except the specifics.

What does seem new to me is the evident lack of interest in policymaking among the radically right-wing members of the House — those whom New York Times columnist Gail Collins referred to as “rabid ferrets” when we were last on the verge of falling over a “fiscal cliff.”

John Nichols at The Nation argues, as his headline says, that “[t]he Republican party has become not only anti-government, but anti-governing.” I wouldn’t paint the party with such a broad brush, but believe it’s true for an influential number of members in the House.

And that makes me very anxious indeed.

UPDATE: When I published this post, the drop-dead date for the debt limit increase was November 5. Later that morning, the Treasury Secretary informed Congressional leaders that the date now is no later than November 3.


What About Diapers?

August 10, 2015

Friend and fierce homeless family advocate Diane Nilan responded to my recent post on child nutrition programs with a question. Did the low-income mothers it focused on say anything about diapers?

I’d meant to write about diaper costs several years ago, when a widely-reported study of low-income mothers found that about 30% didn’t always have enough diapers to put a fresh one on as often as needed.

Just never got to the issue. But I have now.

All new mothers face a choice, at least in theory. Should they use cloth diapers or the disposable kind? Most poor and near-poor women don’t actually have this choice, however.

A service to keep them supplied with clean cloth diapers is out of the question, of course. They’re unlikely to live in a building with washers and dryers in the basement — let alone in their own apartment.

But taking dirty diapers to a laundromat is often out of the question too. Even if the owner allows them in the washers, as many don’t, the mother has to get them there.

A story that went viral tells of a mother who was ordered off a bus because her baby’s newly-soiled diaper smelled. What if she had a whole sackful that needed washing?

Logistics issues aside, most childcare centers require parents to supply disposable diapers for their infants and toddlers, the National Diaper Bank Network reports.

Seems to me likely that many home-based childcare providers do as well, since they’d otherwise have to send dirty diapers to a laundry or store them in some sanitary way for each parent to retrieve.

Parents who work need child care for their kids, including those not yet toilet trained. Even if the provider accepted cloth diapers, they could be hard-pressed for the time to wash, dry and fold them.

Disposable diapers also seem a necessity for parents — mostly mothers — enrolled in a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, since they generally must spend an average of 20-30 hours a week on whatever work activities they’ve been assigned.

TANF parents usually get childcare subsidies. But there’s no subsidy for the diapers. And SNAP (food stamp) and WIC benefits can be used only for foods and beverages.

So a bit of back-of-the-envelope math….

A mother with an infant and a two-year-old can get, at most, about $438 a month in cash assistance from the District of Columbia’s TANF program.

She’ll need roughly 14 disposable diapers a day — or about 426 a month. This is a conservative estimate, based on what I’ve found in various online forums.

The cheapest option is buying the diapers in bulk at a big box store. But here again, we may have logistics problems. A cash flow problem too, since the mother is highly unlikely to have the wherewithal for economies of scale.

So more likely, she’ll have to pick up a box or two at a time from a nearby corner store — or if she’s lucky, a full-service grocery store or one of the expanded chain drugstores.

The cheapest disposable diapers at the grocery store nearest me cost $13.74 a box. More diapers per box for the infant than the toddler, as seems generally the case. The nearby drugstore charges more.

So we’ll assume the mothers buys from the grocery store — and has a car at her disposal or a friend to drive her because she won’t be able to carry the bargain-sized boxes home or to the nearest bus stop.

Her total diaper bill then is roughly $65 a month — nearly 15% of her TANF benefit, which must also cover everything, except the family’s food, if she can stretch her SNAP and WIC benefits enough to last the whole month.

Unimaginable to me how her remaining $373 could pay for even the needs that pop immediately to mind, e.g., clothes, especially for the rapidly-growing kids, laundry, soap and other personal care items, transportation and at least some portion of the rent, plus utilities and cleaning supplies, assuming the family’s not homeless. A big assumption.

Four years ago, bills were introduced in the House and Senate that would have allowed states to use funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant to supply providers with diapers for children whose care the block grant subsidized.

The bills went nowhere. Nor should we expect them to, now that CCDBG has been reauthorized. We shouldn’t mourn them, I think, well-meaning as they were.

Fewer children received CCDBG-subsidized child care in 2013 than in any year since 1997. One can only suppose there would have been even fewer if states had used some of their funds for diapers.

So what’s a poor mother to do? Her best bet it seems is to get free diapers supplied by a local diaper bank. The national network includes nearly 250 of them, including one in the District, which also serves nearby communities in Maryland and Virginia.

The DC bank buys diapers, using donated funds. It also accepts diaper donations, purchased online or collected via diaper drives. Additional diapers come from the national network and from Huggies. The bank then distributes them to nonprofits that provide other services to poor and near-poor families.

So our TANF mother may not have to pay for diapers after all — or at least, not for all the diapers she needs to keep her children clean, dry and cared for by others while she tries to prepare and/or look for work that will pay enough to make diaper costs no worry.

Yet diaper needs far exceed supplies, even in communities with substantial banks. Fine as they are, the banks are no substitute for stronger safety net benefits. After all, it’s not only diapers that poor parents can’t afford.