Georgia activists lobby to end sales tax on period products
Georgia women could soon save nearly $10 million each year on menstrual products.
New legislation in the Georgia House of Representatives aims to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax,” which requires consumers to pay sales tax on feminine products that many consider a medical necessity.
House Bill 8, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, would exempt tampons, pads and other menstrual products from Georgia’s sales tax. Other medical items, such as prescription medications, insulin syringes and hearing aids, are already tax-free.
“There’s no male equivalent for this product,” Buckner said in an interview with The Telegraph. “And so, when you look at the fact that this is something that happens to women, essentially, once a month for forty years, they’re being taxed for a medical product or device that is a necessity, not an option.”
Buckner proposed an earlier version of the bill last session, which never made it to the House floor for a vote. Macon-based organizer Claire Cox has spent the past year mobilizing activists and politicians across the state to bolster support for the legislation.
“This is an issue right here in Georgia, too,” said Cox, president of Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us).
The extra cents female residents spend on sales tax may be minimal from month to month, but they add up over time.
Georgia women earn an average of 70 cents for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts, according to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. About two thirds of them work minimum wage jobs.
U.S. women spend more than $18,000 on period products during the approximately 2,000 days they menstruate throughout their lifetimes, a 2015 Huffington Post analysis found.
“Women, for seven years out of their lives, are paying taxes that only they have to pay,” Buckner said. “So it’s a fairness issue. It is an economic issue. And it is a simple fix to put this medical device in the law.”
‘An added burden’
The cost of menstrual products varies between brands and stores, said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of the menstrual policy organization Period Equity, who researches barriers to access for menstrual products.
For some women and girls, she said, it’s especially difficult to access period protection.
Low-income women who purchase small packages of pads or tampons at neighborhood corner stores each month often pay more per unit than more affluent women who can afford to buy bigger packages in bulk, Weiss-Wolf said.
Young girls whose parents struggle to afford menstrual products sometimes have to go without, she said.
“If you have a student in your household, and they get their period on a Monday, and your paycheck doesn’t come until Friday, and you don’t actually have the spare change or spare $7 between now and then, between the other expenses that you have to meet, that’s not, you know, the student’s fault,” Weiss-Wolf said. “That’s an added burden.”
About one in five girls in the U.S. has missed school because she didn’t have access to period protection, according to the 2017 Always Confidence and Puberty Study. Though both Bibb and Houston County schools offer free sanitary napkins to students in need, such resources aren’t available in all schools across the state.
Incarcerated Georgia women also lack access to period products, Weiss-Wolf said.
The First Step Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in December, will increase availability of menstrual products in federal prisons. A proposal to expand such access in Georgia prisons is still under review.
Homeless women also face a disadvantage, Weiss-Wolf said. If a woman resides on the streets or in a shelter, she said, her ability to afford menstrual products is compromised.
“So, too, is the ability to carry them or keep them on oneself or have access to a clean and private restroom in which to take care of oneself during menstruation,” she said.
Pads and tampons should be provided in all bathrooms, just as toilet paper and soap are, Weiss-Wolf said.
“Women are half the population,” she said. “We’ve not had any hesitancy to regulate items that everybody uses or only men use and to create incentives and ways to make sure that those needs are being met. So, you know, I would ask anyone who thinks it’s not of interest ... if they would feel the same way about just from now on continuously carrying their own toilet paper.”
A simple request
It’s a very simple request, Buckner said.
“It is merely putting another medical device in the codes section or in the Georgia law where the other tax-exempt medical devices are listed,” she said.
Menstrual products are classified by the Federal Drug Administration as medical devices and should be treated as such in the tax code, Buckner added.
Nine states have already exempted feminine hygiene products from their sales tax, according to the Tax Foundation. Most of the other “tampon tax” bills passed in northeastern state, but similar legislation removed menstrual products from neighboring Florida last year.
Buckner’s legislation, modeled after proposals in other states, never made it past the second round of readings when it was introduced last legislative session. But the bill has since garnered bipartisan support from more than two-dozen cosigners who hope to sign it into law this year.
Buckner has even convinced some of her male colleagues to support her legislation.
Exempting menstrual products from Georgia’s sales tax would result in an annual loss of between $9 million and $10 million in annual revenue, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts found. The loss would account for less than 1 percent of the $22.8 billion in tax revenue the state collected in fiscal 2018.
“That revenue is generated by assessing a tax on a portion of our population that is already economically disadvantaged in our state,” said Cox, the Macon activist.
More than 17 percent of Georgia women live below the poverty line, compared to 13 percent of Georgia men, the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute reports.
Cox has worked closely with Buckner and women’s rights organizers across the state to promote the bill and also to push for a state-sponsored pilot study to research menstrual product access issues in Georgia schools. Their coalition, called Georgia STOMP, aims to spread awareness about menstrual product access issues.
The hardest part is just broaching the conversation with legislators, Cox said.
“It’s hard to get men to want to talk about menstrual issues,” she said. “It’s hard to bring it to the table and say, ‘This is something that needs to be talked about, because we never have. It’s something that half of our population experiences.’ And it’s not that maybe they’re against it. They just don’t want to talk about it.”
Leading with facts and figures helps legislators — both men and women — more easily digest the need for the law, she said.
For years, Cox said, women have been too afraid to talk with their legislators about the systemic barriers to period product access.
“Women cover for women all the time,” she said. “Whether it’s a teacher handing a student something out of her purse, a coworker handing somebody something, we’ve been taught not to talk about it and cover for each other. And so, it doesn’t come up, and it hasn’t been addressed when it should have way back.”
The problem might not be fixed immediately, Cox said, but she hopes for some resolution by the time her granddaughter is old enough to need her own menstrual products.
“I generally have a lot of hope, personally, in the next generation to carry a lot of things forward, and I think that the conversation around menstrual equity is gonna be one of those,” she said.
After passing through two rounds of readings, Buckner’s bill has been assigned to the Ways and Means Committee, where it awaits a hearing.
Buckner is optimistic that the state legislature will sign House Bill 8 into law this session. About 10,000 Georgia women have already joined her efforts to exempt menstrual products from the sales tax.
“As an elected official,” Buckner said, “10,000 women seems to be a pretty substantial group of constituents that needs to be listened to.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. You can also join her Facebook group. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.