The head of a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization that aims to prevent infant crib deaths argued that U.S. tariffs on Chinese products are putting U.S. infants at risk because they raise the price of products for very young children.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is the No 1 cause of infant mortality after the first month of age in the United States, research finds.
In 1998, it was found that 90 percent of SIDS cases were caused by unsafe sleeping environments, almost exclusively in low-income households that could not afford a safe crib, according to the nonprofit.
In that same year, Judith Bannon founded Cribs for Kids, making it her mission to reduce infant mortality rates by eliminating sleep-related deaths.
The organization provides products such as cribs, safe-sleep fabrics, bassinets and mesh for crib sides to state health departments, hospitals and related entities and individual families.
Each product has a safety message attached and educational reminders to caregivers that the baby should sleep on its back.
"By following these practices and by putting babies to sleep on their backs in cribs with nothing else around them, we are able to reduce the numbers of babies dying of SIDS and accidental flipping action in bed," she said.
Since 1998, Cribs for Kids has sold more than 600,000 products.
Bannon said before these tariffs were imposed, the company had locked in a price of $49.99 per crib for 20 years. Now, because of the tariffs, it has been forced to increase the price to $54.99 to compensate for higher costs.
Bannon explained that as a nonprofit, 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."
In May, the U.S. increased the level of tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on approximately $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The price for the crib, according to the organization's website, is now $59.99.
"It's really impacting not only our bottom line and our sales, but also the numbers of babies who are able to sleep safely throughout our country," Bannon said.
The organization has built up a working partnership with 1,450 health department and hospitals across the country. Bannon said it's becoming a problem because the contracts with their partners are tied to the original price.
"They order products from us at discounted prices and we are able to offer them the discount pricing because we've ordered them and bought them from China," she said.
Bannon said the cribs are not made anywhere in the U.S. and are only available from China. "We've tried to find any other manufactures of this product in Vietnam, or India, or any other place, but all the factories are located in China."
Bannon said many partners have been unable or refused to pay the cost difference, because "they mistakenly believe that China pays for the tariffs - not us", Bannon wrote in an op-ed piece in The Florida Business Daily.
"People were told China is paying these tariffs. It is not true. The American people are paying the tariffs on all these products coming in from China. The tariffs are paid for by organizations and companies like mine. When they come in to the port and come through security, we are hit with the tariffs we have to pay and we have to pass them on to our customers," she said.
If the trade war continues, Bannon said, her organization risks "going bankrupt".
"Unfortunately, this directly leads to higher death rates among low-income families."