Periods cost about $7 a month. That’s $7 a month, 12 times a year, for approximately 40 years. This means that, on average, this basic bodily function ends up costing those who menstruate a few thousand dollars.
Gov. Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill (AB) 10 on Oct.12, which mandates public schools with grades 6-12 must stock at least half their restrooms with free tampons and sanitary napkins. Only schools with 40 percent of their students below the poverty line would be required to do this. But even with these changes, a bigger issue has yet to be addressed.
Tampons and sanitary napkins shouldn’t be a luxury. People who menstruate can’t control it — it’s a bodily function and period products are a hygienic necessity. These products are already overpriced, yet most states have a state sales tax on period products. According to California lawmakers, period products bring in around $20 million in taxes statewide every year.
This “tampon tax” is receiving backlash because products deemed necessities are normally exempted from the list of taxed items. Items usually excluded from sales tax include groceries, food stamp purchases, medical purchases and agricultural supplies. Including period products in the state sales tax sends the message that period products are not a necessity and dismisses the financial weight people who menstruate bear.
California assembly members Christina Garcia and Gonzalez Fletcher proposed AB 479 on Feb. 13, which, if approved, would eradicate the “tampon tax” and the tax on incontinence products while increasing liquor tax as mitigation. If AB 479 is not approved, California will remain among the majority of states that tax period products.
As of November this year — of the 45 states that enforce a state sales tax — Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania specifically retracted tampons and sanitary napkins from their state sales tax.
September of last year, Brown vetoed AB 1561, which would have ended California’s tax on menstrual products. “Tax breaks are the same thing as new spending,” he said in a statement regarding the decision. Meanwhile, other health items are free from the state sales tax.
But even if these tax bills pass, houseless shelters and low-income populations will still struggle to afford these basic protections. Houseless shelters are continuously in need of period products. Some people even face choosing between food and period products every month. Others are forced to create their own makeshift protections when they run out of products or are too ashamed to ask for more.
It is unacceptable for people to be burdened with an inaccessibility to hygienic necessities. California should provide more assistance to houseless shelters struggling to meet people’s needs, increase access to free pads and tampons in schools and public bathrooms and subsidize period products for low-income people.
AB 10 creates much-needed access to sanitation products, but California should not stop here. Period products are as necessary as toilet paper, yet public bathrooms keep one in stock and not the other.