Most homeless shelters don’t provide sanitary products, and students in New York City’s public school system who get their periods have to go to the nurse to get a tampon or pad. Now city lawmakers want to change that.
On Tuesday, City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito introduced a package of legislation that would ensure that shelters and schools provide free sanitary products. It would also help ensure that they are adequately available to women in the correctional system.
Homeless shelters rarely get donations of tampons and pads, and shelters will only be able to use funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy products starting April after Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) persuaded officials to change the rules. Meanwhile, government programs like food stamps or WIC won’t cover them, so homeless people often struggle to afford the basic necessity. One piece of the new legislative package would require the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide sanitary products to all women in temporary homeless shelters.
Another bill in the package would ensure that all city schools have enough sanitary products to give them to all students for free, covering 270,570 girls. The city is already experimenting with offering free tampons and pads in 25 high schools in mostly low-income neighborhoods. A previous and much smaller pilot program in one city high school increased girls’ attendance and fewer requests to be excused during the day, according to city lawmakers.
The third bill in the package would require the Department of Correction to give all female inmates pads or tampons when they request them and offer name-brand products through the commissary. Currently, the department only gives jails and prisons 144 generic pads per week per 50 inmates, or about 12 pads per woman per cycle, no matter what the actual needs of the inmates may be. Ferreras-Copeland told the New York Times that the current formula is “ridiculous,” adding, “You don’t ration toilet paper or ask for permission for more toilet paper… You shouldn’t have to for these products.”
“These items are as essential as toilet paper, helping us prevent health risks and fulfill our daily activities uninterrupted,” Ferreras-Copeland said in a statement about the legislation. “No student, homeless individual or inmate should have to jump through hoops, face illness or feel humiliated because they cannot access pads or tampons.”
The whole legislative package is estimated to cost $5 million a year, and most of that budget would go toward the school system.
Ferreras-Copeland also said she could foresee introducing bills in the future to make free sanitary products available at city public hospitals, parks, and community programs. “This has been so taboo for so long, that no one even thought about it,” she said.
Ferreras-Copeland, Mark-Viverito, and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez also introduced a resolution calling on the New York State legislature to stop taxing sanitary products, similar to the lack of taxes on other necessities like groceries, prescription drugs, shampoo, and even condoms. The state is being sued by a group of women who has claimed that the so-called tampon tax is “a vestige of another era” and “serves no purpose other than to discriminate.” The state Assembly has unanimously passed a bill that would eliminate the tax, although it hasn’t yet passed the Senate. Only ten states exempt sanitary products from sales tax.