State Assembly members pass legislation to ban tax on menstrual products

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

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State legislators are one step closer to striking down the sales tax on menstrual products sold across California, after the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Assembly Bill 1561 on Aug. 11.

Authored by Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Ling Ling Chang (D-Diamond Bar), the bill would exempt the state sales and uses tax on all tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups and menstrual sponges. On Tuesday, the proposal will return to the Assembly floor for a final vote before it arrives to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for approval.

“Fundamentally this is about gender equity and leveling the field,” Garcia said in a press release. “Every month, for 40 years of our lives, we are taxed for being born women. Every month of our adult life we are taxed for our biology.”

Six other states — most recently New York in June — have also passed legislation to ban taxes on menstrual products. If the bill is signed into law, California will become the eighth state to eliminate the tax.

According to the California State Board of Equalization, the tax exemption would decrease state and local revenues by $20 million annually, a loss that accounts for one-hundredth of one percent of the state budget.

Such a cut would not significantly impact California’s budget, said Alan Auerbach, director of the campus Robert D. Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance. He added that residents are more affected by the state income tax, which reduces their ability to purchase products by diminishing their disposable income.

The exemption is necessary for improving women’s ability to pay for a basic product that is crucial for their health and well-being, said Students United for Reproductive Justice director Adiba Khan.

“The principle of eliminating the tampon tax indicates and acknowledges that menstrual hygiene products are not a luxury product but are instead necessary for those who menstruate,” Khan said. “Women don’t choose to have periods and thus the state has no place profiting off of menstrual products.”

Khan said that although the bill represents one step closer to alleviating the financial burden placed on lower income women struggling to afford these products, it does not improve access to feminine hygiene products for women who are homeless or incarcerated.

According to Garcia, women in these marginalized populations — namely homeless women and those relying on food stamps — are more likely to extend the use of menstrual products and increase their risk of infection.

Those opposing the bill, Auerbach said, might argue that the bill is unnecessary because women of a higher socioeconomic status do not struggle to afford feminine hygiene products.

“If you wanted to target lower income people’s purchases of certain items, you might do it directly through lower income people rather than on the product itself,” Auerbach said, adding that government-sponsored programs, such as those that help low-income families pay for groceries, could help with these efforts.

Tax exemptions already exist for goods deemed necessary, such as food products, bottled water and medicine, with some arguing that lifting the sales tax on these products is more justifiable because these items constitute a larger portion of a person’s expenditures than tampons and pads.

But feminine hygiene items are also a basic necessity for anyone who menstruates, Khan said, and should not fall under the category of luxury goods.

“Even the wealthier women should still not have to pay a tax on a product that they need,” Khan said. “Wealthy and poor women — this is something they can’t control.”

At the Campus Store located on Euclid Avenue in North Berkeley, a box of Always Maxi pads costs $9.99 alone — $10.94 when the sales tax is applied.

“I think (menstrual products are) very expensive — I always feel like it’s an extra $20 to $30 per month,” said Hanqi Luo, a third-year doctoral exchange student from UC Davis while purchasing a package of pads at the Walgreens located on Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, citing the city’s 9.5 percent sales tax.

For Garcia, the bill represents a move to further advance women’s rights in the health sector.

“By passing this bill we get rid of an outdated tax and send a strong signal to women that there is nothing to be ashamed of about their bodies,” Garcia said in an email.

Contact Cassandra Vogel at [email protected].