FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - For weary parents rolling up their sleeves for around-the-clock diaper duty, a bill with bipartisan support in Kentucky would deliver tax relief when purchasing a necessity that adds up to a hefty expense.
The measure would exempt diapers from the state’s 6% sales tax. Senators from both parties have signed on as cosponsors, and the proposal received a hearty endorsement from the operator of a Kentucky diaper bank who says it goes to the heart of a harsh reality for some struggling families — cutting back on food and other expenses to keep their infants in fresh diapers or reusing disposable diapers.
"When people hear about this bill, it’s something they all understand," Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, the bill's lead sponsor, said in an interview Friday. "Anyone who has young children or young grandchildren understands that diapers are really expensive. They understand that several hundred dollars a month for a family with two kids in diapers is a huge expense and families need relief."
With two young children of her own, Chambers Armstrong can relate to the frequent runs to the store to buy diapers. By waiving Kentucky's sales tax for diaper purchases, families with infants or toddlers could save hundred of dollars each year, she said. The proposed exemption also would apply to adult diapers.
"It adds up over time," Chambers Armstrong said of the savings. "It sounds small — 6% — but every penny counts when you're counting pennies."
The struggle to afford diapers is a growing problem, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. When families can't afford a constant supply of clean diapers, their babies are more vulnerable to painful rashes and urinary tract infections and require more doctor visits, the group said. Parents risk missing work or school if they can’t afford the diapers required to leave their baby in child care, it said.
As of last summer, 26 states were charging sales tax on diapers, the organization said. The diaper tax can be as low as 4% or as high as 7%, it said. Children require at least 50 diaper changes per week, it said.
Deanna Hornback, who runs a Louisville-area diaper bank, said she has heard of families rinsing out or taping disposable diapers to keep them in use. She called it a "silent need" that is becoming more prevalent, and she said that passing the tax exemption would deliver badly needed relief for families.
"You’ll not only be reaching those ... impoverished families, you will actually reach those who fall between the cracks, who struggle or who have too much pride to ask for the help," she said in a phone interview Thursday. "So this bill is going to help everybody."
In a legislative chamber dominated by Republicans, Chambers Armstrong has broken through as a Democrat with an idea that is resonating with her Republican colleagues. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is among the Republicans adding their names to the bill as cosponsors.
"I think it's a really good bill," Thayer said Friday. "We're Republicans. We're for cutting taxes. Diapers are a required staple of life."
While the bill has drawn considerable attention, the actual pathway for enacting a sales tax exemption for diaper purchases isn't yet clear. Revenue bills have to start in the House, so the language in Chambers Armstrong's proposal could end up being attached to a House measure, Thayer said.
"However it gets done is a win," Chambers Armstrong said.
Applying the exemption to diaper purchases would cost the Bluegrass State an estimated $10 million a year in revenue — a minuscule amount compared with the cost of existing sales tax exemptions for food and medicine and at a time when Kentucky has massive budget reserves from surging tax collections.
Chambers Armstrong sees the projected fiscal impact for her bill as too high, saying Kentuckians will likely spend savings from the diaper exemption on other family necessities.
Whatever the cost to state coffers, the diaper tax exemption would help ease the pinch on family budgets, she said.
"Whenever you have young children, diapers — purchasing them, affording them — is one of the things that you think about every single day," she said. "And I'm lucky that we had the resources to be able to afford the diapers we needed. But there were so many expenses when we first had our two children, you just think about all the families that struggle and what you can do to help them."