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NATIONAL REPORT | Spring 2016

Periods Gone Public

Legislators are working to make menstrual products more accessible


by JENNIFER WEISS-WOLF

OVER THE PAST YEAR, PERIODS have made headlines around the globe—from Kiran Gandhi's tampon-free run of the London Marathon to Donald Trump's angry accusation that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had "blood coming out of her wherever." But the menstrual issue that has stirred high- profile political debate is the call to make feminine-hygiene products more obtainable by eliminating sales tax on tampons, pads and menstrual cups, and piloting programs to offer these items for free to women in need.

There are 40 U.S. states that currently collect sales tax on menstrual products. And while those states understandably exempt necessities, such as most food and medical items, there is a host of other tax-free items sold that hardly qualify as essentials—fruit roll-ups, barbecue sunflower seeds and garter belts among them. A sales-tax exemption for menstrual products—a year's supply can cost upward of $70—lifts a small financial burden for women. Perhaps more importantly, though, it speaks to gender equity.

While activists around the world have launched at least half a dozen petitions urging governments to lift the so-called tampon tax—some, such as one in Canada, were successful— the U.S. has been slower to enter the fray. In fact, until recently, some lawmakers were unaware that women even shouldered this extra burden. President Obama demonstrated that fact during a live YouTube interview when he learned about the tampon tax. "I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed," he said.

However, there is a growing cohort of leaders who recognize that it's time to stop taxing menstrual products. In January, California Assembly members Cristina Garcia (D) and Ling Ling Chang (R) introduced a bipartisan bill to eliminate the state's tax on tampons and pads. Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and others have since followed suit.

Some legislators have gone even further, noting that for those who are most vulnerable—poor women, young people, homeless women and those behind bars—sales-tax relief is a good start, but more can be done.

In New York City, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is partner- ing with the Department of Education to pilot a program that provides free tampons and pads in public schools serving low-income students.

In Dane County, Wisconsin, menstrual products will soon be provided for free at eight county facilities. And Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Wis.) has introduced a bill that would provide free tampons and pads in all of Wisconsin's public schools and cor- rectional facilities.

At the federal level, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill last summer to ensure the inclusion of menstrual products in Flexible Spending Account allowances. She also convinced the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program to allow homeless shelters to purchase feminine-hygiene products with grant funds. Prior to her recommendation, toothpaste was an eligible expense, but menstrual products were not.

"As women, we all deal with the effects of menstruation," says Meng. "It's not a secret...purchasing these items is a continuous and costly expense that we must bear for much of our lives. That's why it is critical to make access to these products as affordable as possible."

Reprinted from the Spring issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, Apple, or Android device, join the Ms. Community.

Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com. To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.

Image by Laura Epstein-Norris.

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