A few weeks ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom made national headlines when he unveiled his revised budget plan, including a proposal to scrap the “tampon tax.”
Newsom was celebrated by press outlets and politicians alike — including Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia who has, incidentally, advocated for a bill to eliminate the sales tax on menstrual products in California numerous times.
Garcia has said this proposal is all about creating “menstrual equity.” In other words, people with periods should not be taxed for products their biology requires.
But it’s important to note that Newsom’s proposal does not mean this tax will be eliminated in perpetuity. If his proposed budget is passed, the tax exemptions would only last for the duration of the fiscal years between January 2020 and January 2025.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, legal activist and attorney, and author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, was quick to point this out in her recent op-ed for Newsweek:
“The sales tax-exempt status of menstrual products must be permanently enshrined into law, not a one-off budget line that can ebb and flow at the whim of the state’s leadership or in light of its fiscal health.”
Where we stand today
Currently, there are 35 states in the U.S. that impose a sales tax on menstrual products. You’re probably wondering why that’s the case in some states, but not others. And here’s why:
Over the years, there have been nuanced arguments over what constitutes “necessity” among consumer goods and, as such, gets exempt from sales tax. As a result, each state subjectively dictates the classification of items — and period products are not always deemed necessities.
Let’s put that into perspective with a few important facts:
1. In those 35 states that do tax tampons, several other “necessities” are exempt from sales tax. The list varies from state to state, including things like: BBQ sunflower seeds, bingo supplies, gun club memberships, and more.
2. Many of these states go one step further, classifying a subset of the above items as “medical necessities.” Among the items included in this category: erectile dysfunction pills, dandruff shampoos, and hair loss treatments for men.
3. According to Period Equity, it’s estimated that the tampon tax costs Americans who menstruate more than $150 million a year. Take a minute to let that number sink in.
So, why aren’t more people talking about the tampon tax? And how do we ensure that our laws don’t discriminate against those of us who menstruate?
How the battle is won
As lifelong residents of New York, we were proud to see our home state be among the first to eliminate the tampon tax for good. (Though, on a national level, we’re still fighting for the right to pay for menstrual products with our hard-earned FSA dollars.)
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in the summer of 2016, making New York the 11th state without a tax on menstrual products.
How did it happen? A group of five New York residents, mobilized by Weiss-Wolf and fellow attorney-activist Laura Strausfeld, filed a class action lawsuit in New York State court. The plaintiffs argued that the tampon tax is discrimination.
Weiss-Wolf and Strausfeld are the co-founders of Period Equity, the nation’s first law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity. Together, they are taking on the tampon tax, one state at a time, while advocating for period products that are affordable, safe, and accessible.
This lawsuit also followed an editorial by the New York Times, urging its state, and others, to stop taxing feminine hygiene products. “Getting rid of taxes on these products is an important first step toward making them affordable for all.”
We’ve got work to do
Since New York repealed the tampon tax, other states have followed suit, including Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, and Nevada. But that leaves more than half of the country — 35 states — with some form of sales tax on menstrual products.
While that number may seem daunting, let’s not forget that it only took a group of New Yorkers to rally their community and put pressure on their home state.
We’ve seen the power of our own LOLA community over the past few years. Together, we’ve donated over two million period products to women in need across the U.S.
But it’s not enough to focus solely on the financial burden of taxing our period products. We must see the tampon tax for what it is — an act of discrimination against people with periods.
In his statement, Cuomo said, “This is a regressive tax on essential products that women have had to pay for far too long and lifting it is a matter of social and economic justice.”
We couldn’t agree more.
— Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier, co-founders of LOLA