Cosmopolitan dubbed 2015 “The Year The Period Went Public” and NPR called it “The Year of the Period.” Here at the Ms. Blog, I predicted that 2016 would be an even bigger, bolder year for menstrual equity: “The Year Period Policy Prevailed” (which I swiftly reconsidered to “That Time President Obama Talked About Tampons”).
Yes, last month the Leader of the Free World decried the “Tampon Tax”—the sales tax that 80 percent of the U.S. states levy on tampons and other menstrual products—following a bold, live inquiry made by YouTube star Ingrid Nilsen. The New York Times issued an editorial urging states to scrap the unfair tax. Even The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams made a similar primetime plea. (“Yeah, I said it!” she exclaimed after wrapping up a segment on feminism and presidential politics with a fist-raised call for “No Tax On Tampons.”)
Since January, there has been a flurry of activity in state houses across the country, with “Tampon Tax” bills introduced or resurrected in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, most with bipartisan sponsorship. The City of Chicago introduced a comparable ordinance, along with a statement of approval from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
As legislation advances, questions about revenues and budgets—California collects about $20 million annually in sales taxes on tampons and pads, Utah collects $1 million—and debates about equitable policy surely will emerge.
Already in Utah, an all-male committee swiftly voted to reject the proposed Hygiene Tax Act, claiming the need to avoid subjective exemptions in the tax code and a concern that lost revenues would have to be recovered elsewhere. (Perhaps by a levy on a product used by the whole population?) Yet, as Fusion’s Taryn Hillin points out, there’s already plenty of subjectivity in Utah’s tax code and a plethora of random sales tax carve-outs—from arcade games to snowmaking equipment—from which the state could recoup lost revenue.
As for the other 39 states that rely on women’s periods to bolster their budgets, I’ve examined the tax code of each to highlight a selection of curious items for which sales-tax exemptions have been made, while tampons and pads continue to be taxed:
Arizona: Asses, sheep and swine
Colorado: Bagged salads
Connecticut: Subscription magazines
Georgia: Tattoos and piercings
Idaho: Chainsaws (over $100)
Illinois: Beef jerky
Indiana: BBQ sunflower seeds
Iowa: Kettle corn
Kentucky: Pixie Stix
Louisiana: Specialty items for Mardi Gras celebrations
Missouri: Bingo supplies
Nebraska: Zoo and aquarium admissions
Nevada: Newspaper ink
New Mexico: Souvenirs at minor league baseball stadiums
New York: Fruit Rollups
North Carolina: Meals served at fraternities and sororities
North Dakota: Pastries
Ohio: Gift certificates
Rhode Island: Golf club memberships
South Carolina: Sweetgrass baskets
South Dakota: Entry fees for rodeo participants
Tennessee: Fishing tournament registration fees
Texas: Seasoned croutons
Vermont: Garter belts
Washington: Christmas tree production
West Virginia: Manicures and massages
Wisconsin: Gun club memberships
A noteworthy observation: Federal law requires that all eligible purchases made using food stamps—tampons and pads are currently ineligble—be exempt from sales tax. This adds fuel to the argument that menstrual products be included in this essential benefits program. It would offer additional financial relief to those who need it most until we’ve done away with the unfair tax nationwide.
If you haven’t already, please sign the national petition—Stop Taxing Our Periods! Period.—directed at the 40 states above. Please also let your legislators know that menstrual equity trumps rodeos, chainsaws and sausages. (Did you ever doubt that it did?)
Photo courtesy of Laura Epstein-Norris