A new bill aims to decrease the cost of menstrual cycles for women statewide.
Connecticut lawmakers are working to pass legislation that would make feminine hygiene products — currently considered “luxury goods” — tax-exempt. Tampons, pads and other feminine sanitary items are subject to Connecticut’s 6.35 percent sales tax. But the proposed legislation, to be debated at a Public Health Committee meeting next Monday, would remove that tax as well as the sales tax on children’s diapers, which are also considered luxury items. Three bills have been presented to the state government that aim to make taxes on feminine sanitary products — which place a disproportionate financial burden on women — a thing of the past.
“Women are paying $3.6 million a year [in Connecticut] just because of our biology,” state Rep. Kelly Luxenberg, who introduced one of the bills, said. “I believe it’s an inequity that should not exist.”
Luxenberg, who is in her first term as a state representative, explained that most medical products, including adult diapers, are not taxed because they are perceived to be essential items for consumers. But child diapers and feminine hygiene products are subject to sales tax due to their classification as luxury goods.
Luxenberg said she is pushing for legislation to make these women’s and infants’ products tax-exempt because women have no choice but to buy them. She said she has found her political niche advocating for issues that are especially important to young women.
Banning the tampon tax, however, might not be a costless affair.
“Right now we’re facing a difficult time in Connecticut fiscally,” Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England Susan Yolen said. “There are folks on the Public Health Committee looking at this who probably support the notion of exempting these products from taxes but are worried about doing so because they generate revenue.”
Although the state takes in a significant amount of revenue from the tampon tax, Luxenberg said Connecticut can feasibly find another way to make up for the financial loss. To highlight another gendered difference in spending, Luxenberg noted that both men and women smoke cigarettes and pay the same sales tax to do so. But tobacco products such as chewing tobacco are mainly purchased by men.
Yolen said Planned Parenthood supports Luxenberg’s efforts to make feminine hygiene products tax-exempt. But while topics like menstruation are natural for the organization to discuss, many see them as taboo.
The Connecticut General Assembly — where the bill may eventually be debated — is a predominantly male world, Yolen said. She said she is glad to see state Reps. Luxenberg and Juan Candelaria — who is also proposing a bill to ban the tampon tax — sparking a dialogue about feminine hygiene products on a politically visible platform.
“The message women have been hearing is: ‘Menstruation is your problem and your job is to render it invisible,’ and I think we have,” Yolen said. “But I think there’s a lot of conversation starting and hopefully we become a state that is more tolerant.”
Luxenberg attributed this “shifting of the tide” to President Barack Obama’s verbal disapproval of the tampon tax during a January interview, which spotlighted it as a national issue. Last year, a state bill that could have lifted the tax on diapers was debated at a public hearing. But a similar tax exemption for tampons never reached the level of a Public Health Committee hearing until this year. Luxenberg expressed excitement about the topic finally garnering attention.
She added that March, which is Women’s History Month, is a fitting time to put the tampon tax on the agenda, adding that she likes to think of 2016 more broadly as “the year of the woman.” Other women’s organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Center at Yale, have also voiced their support.
“We at the Women’s Center believe that the tampon tax should be eliminated, as its existence is patriarchal and unfairly economically burdensome,” Women’s Center Public Relations Coordinator Vicki Beizer said. “The elimination of the tax would be a step in the right direction towards gender equality.”
Yolen said that while many women, especially students, do not think twice about paying the tax on a box of tampons, it is unaffordable for many. She added that in some cultures, women are so shamed by menstruation that they do not go to school and miss out on many opportunities.
Since feminine hygiene is a topic of public conversation, some local organizations in the state have worked on fundraising projects to give sanitary napkins to homeless shelters, Yolen said. She added that although occasional fundraising is important, there needs to be a permanent fix in the form of legislation.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” Yolen said. “If you’re a woman, you have a period.”