Period Action Day: ‘Tampon tax’ in 22 states; period poverty persists – USA TODAY

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  • Saturday, October 8th is Period Action Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness to period poverty that persists worldwide and taking action.
  • A quarter of people in the U.S. who need menstrual products struggle to afford them.
  • Advocates are also pushing for policy change, such as eradicating “tampon taxes” that still exist in 22 states.

Period Action Day is Saturday. And awareness about period poverty around the globe is critical, advocates say, as the fight for menstrual equity continues.

In the U.S., one in four people who need menstrual products today struggle to afford them, according to advocacy nonprofit Alliance for Period Supplies. And more than 20 states still tax period products, often as “nonessential” items or luxury goods.

Activists and numerous nonprofits are working to change those sobering realities.

“Period products are actually a medical need. They’re a necessity and everyone should have access to them, just like basic food and shelter. It’s a matter of human rights,” Damaris Pereda, national programs director of global nonprofit Period. , told USA TODAY.

Period Action Day, which Period. started in 2019, “serves as a global day of advocacy” to celebrate youth activists fighting for menstrual equity, bolster calls for action and raise awareness about the impacts of period poverty that occur every day.

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This year’s Period Action Day is also partnering with the Women’s March, Pereda noted, because the two share the same weekend. Period. is encouraging people to participate in marches near them, host period product drives and educate each other about menstrual equity this Saturday – but action and awareness shouldn’t be limited to one day, she said.

Here’s what advocates want you to know.

Period poverty has grown

Period poverty, defined as the inability to access period supplies and/or receive adequate menstrual health education, has grown over recent years nationwide.

A 2021 study from U by Kotex, founding sponsor of the Alliance for Period Supplies, showed that two in five people have struggled to purchase period products in their lifetime due to lack of income – a 35% increase from the menstrual hygiene brand’s 2018 research.

“Half the world menstruates. And there are millions of people in this country today that need access to these basic necessities (and) just simply don’t have them because they don’t have the money,” Jennifer Gaines, program director at the Alliance for Period Supplies, told USA TODAY, pointing to COVID-19’s impact on period poverty as well.

Twenty-seven percent of all respondents said the pandemic made it more difficult to access menstrual products.

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The study also displayed period poverty’s disproportionate racial and socioeconomic impacts – with nearly a quarter of Black (23%) and Latina (24%) respondents strongly agreeing that they’ve struggled to afford period products in the past year. And more than a third of low-income women surveyed (38%) reported missing work, school or other events because of a lack of period supplies, the study said.

Gaines added that young students living in poverty, Indigenous communities on tribal lands, rural populations, single moms, people who are incarcerated and those experiencing homelessness are among other groups that experience period poverty the most.

“There’s so many different communities across the country that are affected by this,” Gaines said.

Period.’s 2021 State of the Period report found similar growth of period poverty in schools – with a quarter of students who menstruate reporting they struggle to access period products, up from one-fifth of students in 2019.

‘Tampon tax’ still exists in 22 states, even after recent push to eradicate

Both Gaines and Pereda stress that advocacy for legislation and policy change is critical in the fight towards menstrual equity. A starting place is the “tampon tax.”

As of September 2022, 22 states currently charge sales tax on period products, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. These necessary menstrual supplies are also often taxed as luxury goods – at the similar rates to makeup, electronics and decor, the nonprofit notes.

“If you’re someone that menstruates, you know that having a pad or having a tampon or another period product is not a luxury,” Gaines said. 

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Many states across the country, although not all, exempt taxes for necessities like groceries and medicine. But menstrual products are often not included – which is especially striking when some of the same states with “tampon taxes” have exemptions for prescription drugs like Viagra, Pereda said.

Statistics on the total cost of period products over time ranges significantly. But U.S. News estimates that a person who menstruate spends an average of $9,000 on period products over their lifetime. The National Organization for Women says that number is closer to $18,000. Advocates argue that “tampon taxes” have a significant impact.

“These are essential items. There’s no reason they should be unfairly taxed,” Ameer Abdul, national campaign manager at Period., told USA TODAY. “We’ve spoken to family members who’ve talked to us about how, at the end of the month, they have to consider whether they want to purchase some more food to put in the fridge or a box of tampons. And that’s quite outrageous.”

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Especially in recent years, more and more have worked towards eradicating the “tampon tax.” Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to remove taxes on period products – most recently Virginia, where the tax exemption will go into effect in January. Five other states do not have a state sales tax.

Here are the 22 states that currently tax the sale of period products, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Legislation doesn’t end at the “tampon tax.” While policies range in some states, Gaines noted that menstrual products are not included federal assistance programs SNAP and WIC.

She added that nonprofits like the Alliance for Period Supplies “encourage the government to create an increased budget for basic necessities that include period products.”

Addressing period stigma, education

Ensuring that every person who menstruates can afford and have access to period supplies is an incredible hurdle. Another is ending the stigma.

This can start in schools through education, ensuring that all public bathrooms provide free period products and talking about periods openly every day, advocates say.

Alliance for Period Supplies and others, for example, are advocating for legislation to ensure menstrual products are “in all (public school) restrooms, regardless of what the gender is, and that these bills are funded,” Gaines said, noting that lower-income schools struggling with these budgets the most.

“Menstrual education is also a great way to break the stigma,” she added. “Having everybody in the conversation, and not just one gender over the other, (to make) sure that we all understand how a body works, how menstruation works and how to take care of your body in a healthy and safe way.”

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Nonprofits are also pushing for legislation make period products free in all restrooms for public buildings as well as detention facilities, like the Menstrual Equity for All Act introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., last year. Such federal legislation has yet to be passed.

Education and policy change go hand and hand with ally ship, Abdul noted.

“This is not something that should be on the shoulders of folks who menstruate. This is not something that should be on the shoulders of women. This should not be on the shoulders of people who are… the most marginalized,” Abdul said.

“We need to put better education into place so that these folks who don’t menstruate – non-menstruators, (including) men like myself – (can) learn more about this,” he added. “Regardless of if you menstruate or not, it’s important for you to be a part of this movement.”

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Pereda added there’s hope for a future where period poverty is eradicated – pointing to increased action, proposed policies and more open discussions about menstruation  worldwide.

“We are bringing attention to this issue and ending period poverty for good,” she said. “The more we talk about (menstruation equity), we’re really seeing that shift in culture.”