COMMENTARY: Sweet Dreams: Why America Needs to Say Goodnight to Tariffs

For many Americans, trade disputes between the United States and foreign countries like China may seem inconsequential or go entirely unnoticed. But trade wars lead to tariffs, which—in the case of some infants—can be a matter of life or death.

In the United States, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the number one cause of infant mortality after the first month of age. In 1998, it was discovered that 90 percent of SIDS cases were caused by unsafe sleeping environments, almost exclusively seen in low-income households that simply could not afford to purchase a crib.

As the founder and executive director of Cribs for Kids, I’ve made it my personal mission to ensure that no mother faces the tragic loss of her child due to a largely preventable syndrome. Since 1998, Cribs for Kids has distributed more than 600,000 safe sleeping environments to families in need, in addition to educating as many families and caretakers as possible on the fundamentals of safe sleeping.

In 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics gave directive that all babies should sleep in the same room as their mothers, but not in the same bed. In apartments or homes that couldn’t fit a proper crib, this posed a serious challenge. As a small, portable crib that can hold up to 30 pounds, our “Cribette” was a revolutionary solution. Each Cribette not only provides mothers with a safe space for their child to sleep but is also printed with the fundamental “ABCs” of safe sleep to serve as a constant reminder that babies should be “Alone, on their Backs, in a Crib.” Fewer babies fall victim to SIDS when we educate on safety practices and help provide access to safe sleeping environments.

While we’ve made measurable progress in decreasing infant mortality rates, our work—and the lives of innocent children—is being threatened by tariffs. Before these tariffs were imposed, we had locked in a price of $49.99 price tag per crib since 1998. However, we’ve now been forced to increase the price to $54.99 to compensate for the higher costs from tariffs.

Many partners have been unable or refused to pay the cost difference, because they mistakenly believe that China pays for the tariffs—not us. When our partners can’t afford to purchase cribs, they cannot distribute them to families in their local areas, and we risk reversing the progress we’ve made on reducing the number of infant deaths.

Here in Florida, consumers, workers and businesses are bearing the costs of the trade war. According to a recent study from Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, Florida businesses have paid an extra $388 million in import tariffs since new tariffs were imposed. In December alone, this amounted to an additional $110 million. This is nine times higher than tariffs paid on the same products just a year ago. These added costs have rippled across the economy, hurting businesses like mine.

As a non-profit, Cribs for Kids is not required to pay federal taxes. But with nearly all our supplies imported from China, tariffs are serving as a 10-percent tax that we are forced to absorb. Updating our paperwork to reflect the new price has burdened our staff, cost us money and forced us to raise our prices. Unfortunately, this directly leads to higher death rates among low-income families.

On April 10, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) will host its annual conference and trade show in Orlando, bringing together thousands of buyers, consumers, and producers. We hope that the leaders of our industry will take this opportunity to discuss the harmful effects of the trade war on the safety and well-being of children.

Other baby products being showcased at the JPMA conference have been spared from tariffs—including car seats, high chairs, strollers and bike helmets—because they are deemed “safety equipment.” Despite a direct correlation between safe sleeping environments and deaths from SIDS, cribs are not yet classified as safety equipment. Until cribs secure that designation—or better yet, until these tariffs are lifted—Cribs for Kids’s mission will be curtailed and fewer innocent lives will be saved.

– Judith Bannon is the founder and executive director of Cribs for Kids. Since 1998, Cribs for Kids has expanded from a local nonprofit to a nationwide organization with more than 14,000 partners. It has provided over 600,000 cribs to families in need, drastically reducing infant mortality within the United States.


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