Michigan Lawmakers End the Tampon Tax: The Case for Bipartisan Period Legislation

Michigan has officially made menstrual products exempt from tax, joining several other states who have voided the tampon tax.

Over the course of a lifetime, the average menstruator must spend between $3,360 and $4,800 on period products. (Becker1999 / Creative Commons)

It is estimated over the course of a lifetime, the average menstruating Michigander has 456 periods, totaling 6.25 years, and uses 17,000 tampons or pads. When you apply the 6 percent sales tax Michiganders must pay on menstrual products, the average menstruator in the state pays between $7 to $10 per month on these products. These monthly purchases add up, and over the course of a lifetime, the average menstruator must spend between $3,360 and $4,800 on these necessary products. 

Taxing menstrual products disproportionately affects one-half of Michigan’s population, as women primarily shoulder the unfair burden of high product cost and taxation. After many years of advocacy, that burden is finally being lifted.

Earlier this month, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill exempting menstrual products from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. Repealing this tax on essential menstrual products will make them more affordable and accessible, helping millions across the state. 

“I am proud that we are bringing people together to put Michiganders first and drive down costs on these essential products,” said Whitmer after signing HB 5267. “Everyone should be able to take care of their most basic healthcare needs without an unnecessary added financial burden.”

House Bill 4270 and House Bill 5267 respectively amend the Use Tax Act and General Sales Tax Act, to exempt the sale of feminine hygiene products from taxation under those Acts. They were signed by Whitmer to go into immediate effect after already passing through the House and the Senate with bipartisan support. The bills define feminine hygiene products as “tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar tangible personal property designed for feminine hygiene in connection with the human menstrual cycle.”

Period Equity has spearheaded a nationwide movement to eliminate the tampon tax in the United States and Michigan has become another victory for menstruators, but the fight still remains. Twenty-seven states continue to levy the sales tax, use tax or both on menstrual products. 

Michigan was able to successfully eliminate the tampon tax thanks to a bipartisan effort. Success was achieved by crossing party lines and looking past conceptualized ‘party issues’ to find a common sense resolution. Understanding how Michigan found this success will be key in continued efforts to abolish the tampon tax nationwide; as similar challenges lay ahead in other states, the movement can look at this legislation for guidance.

Sex-Based Discrimination

The “tampon tax” is defined by Period Equity as an unfair and discriminatory economic burden that allows states to profit from the purchase of these medically necessary items. These taxes occur because states recognize menstrual products as luxury items.

A lawsuit was filed against Michigan declaring the state’s “actions in administering and enforcing sales and use tax on menstrual products was unconstitutional because it discriminated against women.” The suit was supported by many activists and organizations, calling on the state to repeal these taxes that discriminated upon the basis of sex. 

But while it is true that menstruators are the most impacted by these discriminatory taxes, the reality is menstrual taxes, the lack of access to products, and their lack of affordability, affect everyone when policymakers fail to recognize how essential these products are. Bills attempting to repeal taxes on menstrual products have been reintroduced by legislators for many years in the state, but continuously failed to earn the bipartisan support necessary to succeed.

“When this legislation gets pigeonholed into a partisan legislation, or when it gets pigeonholed into a gender-specific legislation, that’s close-minded thinking,” said Michigan state Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R), the sole sponsor of HB 5267. “It doesn’t take into account the actual ramifications of what we are trying to do here.” 

On November 4, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill exempting menstrual products from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. (Instagram)

Tax Exemption

A major factor that appealed to Republican lawmakers when supporting this issue were the tax cuts.

“There are a lot of aspects of this tax cut that relate to people, some of which have difficulty with their financial situation, so we found some areas we can agree,” said Rep. Matt Hall (R), chairman of the House Tax Policy Committee.

“This legislation allows us to reduce taxes while improving public health by eliminating an unnecessary tax on very necessary items,” said Posthumus. “This is about putting money back into the pockets of Michigan families—and we did that here.”

The House Fiscal Agency estimates that the introduction of these bills will result in a loss of approximately $7 million per year in sales and use tax revenue. While the fiscal benefit for individuals may not be prominent, “it’s a small change with a big impact,” said Sen. Mallory McMorrow’s (D). “While it’s a small savings per purchase, those taxes have historically added up over a lifetime for one half of Michigan’s population and not the other.”

Menstrual issues are not limited to a specific gender, class or party. “These ideas seem to fit within Republican ideals as much as they do within Democratic ideals,” said state Rep. John Damoose (R). “I came to the conclusion that if there are things we can do together, we should do them together.”

Period Equity will continue to fight to end the tampon tax for menstruators across the nation, including in Michigan to make sure period products are free and accessible in schools, prisons and shelters.

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Madison Gusler is an editorial fellow for Ms. and a senior at Long Island University Global. She is majoring in global studies and minoring in international relations.