On Monday, the New York State Senate unanimously passed a bill that will exempt sanitary products from sales tax, just a month after the same bill unanimously passed the Assembly.
New York is one of the many states that subjects tampons and pads to the 4 percent sales tax, unlike most medical necessities and even things like chapstick, shampoo, face wash, and Rogaine. The bill ending this so-called “tampon tax” has to get signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) before it becomes law, but he previously gave it his backing and a spokeswoman applauded its passage on Monday.
The issue has gained increased attention this year, particularly in New York, where five women brought a lawsuit against the state’s department of taxation, calling the unequal treatment of sanitary products “a vestige of another era” that “serves no purpose other than to discriminate.” A similar lawsuit also cropped up in Ohio, where the plaintiffs not only claim that the tax is discriminatory against women, but are also demanding that women be reimbursed for the extra costs they’ve incurred by being taxed over the last six years.
The numbers are quite large: in Ohio, the lawsuit estimates that women spend $11 million a year through taxation on sanitary products; in New York, advocates put the number at $14 million. Yet before the New York legislature took action, just ten states exempted sanitary products from sales tax.
More action may be on its way. A bill has been introduced in California to end the state’s tampon tax. President Obama has weighed in on the issue himself, saying he has “no idea why states would tax these as luxury items… I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” He added, “I think it’s pretty sensible for women in those states [that tax sanitary products] to work to get those taxes removed.”
And lawmakers in New York City want to go even further, not just calling for an end to unfair taxation but also seeking to provide free tampons and pads in public schools and homeless shelters and to ensure an adequate supply in the correctional system. Shelters often don’t get donations of sanitary products, and they can’t be bought with food stamps or WIC, making the products out of reach for many low-income women. Meanwhile, a pilot program providing free products to schools found that it increased girls’ attendance.