A pilot program for 25 New York City high schools will offer free tampons to middle school and high school students in mostly low-income neighborhoods, according to the Gothamist. The New York City Department of Education said the program, which installs dispensers for women’s sanitary products in school bathrooms, will cost $160,000.
In addition to the pilot program, Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is also sponsoring legislation that would provide free tampons in school bathrooms all over the city. Ferreras-Copeland, who helped the department choose the school districts for the pilot program, told The Daily News that it’s important low-income students don’t have barriers to accessing basic feminine care products.
“Girls in these districts face the greatest financial hardships,” Ferreras-Copeland said. “I want to ensure none of them lose class time, face illness or feel humiliated because their family cannot afford pads.” In a post on her Facebook page, the councilmember pointed out that although free condoms are often available at high schools and middle schools, free feminine care products are scarce.
Efforts to expand access to sanitary products are gaining traction thanks to recent campaigns, lawsuits, and legislation drawing attention to sales taxes on tampons. Items such as tampons and pads are lumped in with taxed products such as fruit rollups and potato chips. Only a few states don’t impose a sales tax on women’s sanitary products, and government assistance programs typically don’t help impoverished women purchase feminine care products. That ends up encumbering low-income girls’ and women’s access to tampons and pads.
Earlier this month, five New York women sued the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, saying the tampon tax is creating a double standard for men and women and “serves no purpose but to discriminate.”
When students don’t have access to sanitary products, they could put their health at risk, because they may end up using whatever material is available to them to serve in place of pads and tampons, such as rags, The Huffington Post reported.
Changing the policy could reduce a significant amount of tax revenue for states. New York could lose $14 million in tax revenue, the Daily News reported. In California, where a bill has been introduced to exempt feminine care products from the sales tax, exempting tampons and pads from a sales tax would mean losing $20 million a year, according to CNN Money. Utah, Virginia, and New York have similar pending legislation.