Cara Rosner photo
Diapers (Cara Rosner photo)

Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation seeking to exempt baby diapers from state sales tax.

The bill, which has been referred to the Children’s Committee, is being spearheaded by Rep. Kelly Luxenberg, D-Manchester, and Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly.

Luxenberg, who is mother to a 10-month-old baby, said she was inspired to introduce the bill when she bought diapers and was surprised to see she was charged sales tax.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I just thought baby diapers, being a necessity, would be tax free.”

In Connecticut, baby diapers are taxable but adult diapers are tax exempt. According to the state Department of Revenue Services, children’s diapers — both cloth and disposable — are considered clothing and therefore are taxed. Adult diapers, on the other hand, are included in an exemption for “certain disposable pads” commonly used by people who are incontinent, according to DRS.

The tax punishes young, working families, Luxenberg said. She estimates that sales tax costs families $300 per child over the span of years in which the child is in diapers.

She said she is awaiting an analysis of how much sales tax diapers generate for the state.

A pack of 32 diapers typically costs around $9. Connecticut’s 6.35-percent sales tax adds another 57 cents to the cost.

While tax is “a small portion” of the total cost, eliminating it would provide some welcome relief to low-income families that struggle to afford diapers, said Janet Stolfi Alfano, executive director of The Diaper Bank, a North Haven-based statewide nonprofit that connects families in need to diapers.

“Diapers are expensive for everyone; for low-income families it’s just exorbitant,” she said. “Anything that the legislature can do to help alleviate the burden of the cost of diapers for families is certainly welcome.”

Diapers are a continuous need for a child’s first three years, she noted, and many Connecticut parents and caregivers can’t afford them. Foregoing diapers has various negative consequences, she said: it can lead to health problems for babies, and can prevent families from accessing childcare since most providers require that an ample number of diapers be left with the child, for instance.

The poorest families in the state typically don’t have access to places where they can buy diapers less expensively, places like discount clubs or online, she said.

Cara Rosner photo

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, cannot be used to buy diapers.

“It’s a need we see constantly,” Stolfi Alfano said. “We are certainly really happy that (the bill) has been introduced.”

In the past, clothing items costing less than $50, including diapers, were tax exempt in Connecticut. But that exemption was repealed several years ago. The exemption is due to return July 1, but there is no guarantee it won’t disappear again in the future, said Luxenberg.

“Now is the time to make a statement,” she said.

The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee will begin screening various revenue-related bills this week, said committee co-chair Rep. Jeffrey Berger, D-Waterbury.

The state’s revenue stream is “eroding,” which will make it tough for bills seeking to cut taxes, he said.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult for us to be able to look at any proposal that would reduce our revenue at this point,” he said.

To stand a realistic chance, he said, bills would need to be “revenue neutral” with no real fiscal impact or have a “minimal impact” of $100,000 or less.

While legislators are encouraged to submit legislation they feel will benefit their constituents, he said, it would be “presumptuous and reckless” for lawmakers to approve any bills that decrease Connecticut’s revenue stream.