Holly Seibold is the founder of Braws.
In a huge victory for women’s equality, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) included partial funding for the “tampon tax repeal” in her proposed fiscal 2019 budget . If the D.C. Council adopts her proposal, women in the District — who earn just 86 cents to every man’s dollar, on average — will no longer face the added indignity of having to pay tax on menstrual products. The mayor’s decision to fund the tampon tax repeal demonstrates her leadership on menstrual equity, an issue that has become a national movement.
I founded Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters (BRAWS) in 2015 to address the lack of access to menstrual products many women and girls experience locally. BRAWS is a local nonprofit that collects and distributes menstrual products and new bras and underwear (with tags on) to women in shelters in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Through our work, we became aware of this overwhelming need.
In 2016, D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), a leader in the menstrual-equity fight, introduced tampon tax legislation that passed with near-unanimous support. The mayor signed the Feminine Hygiene and Diaper Sales Tax Amendments Act of 2016 on Dec. 6, 2016, subject to appropriation. This means the law cannot be implemented until it is funded. To date, the D.C. Council has failed to fund the law. If fully funded, the law would remove the sales tax from all menstrual products and diapers in the District.
The District has an opportunity to be at the forefront on menstrual equity, a key women’s movement. Laws and policies our society puts in place should take into account that only one gender menstruates. Women are largely the consumers of menstrual products, and a tax on those products unfairly targets women. Menstrual products are expensive, making them inaccessible to some women with low incomes. That can have a negative impact on their jobs and school performance. The sales tax on these products creates even more of a burden.
A woman may use more than 40 pads or tampons over a seven-day period. Women and girls who cannot afford these products may suffer physical and emotional trauma, from vaginal infections to ridicule from classmates or colleagues.
Moreover, the 5.75 percent D.C. sales tax, which is applied uniformly on all taxable purchases regardless of income level, is regressive. Families with low incomes pay a larger percentage of their income to sales taxes.
Some argue that all consumer purchases should be taxed equally to preserve the tax base. However, the District can afford the relatively minor cost of the tampon tax repeal to ensure its tax code does not unfairly burden women. According to the chief financial officer, the District is projected to collect nearly $88.7 million more revenue than anticipated in fiscal 2019.
Menstrual products are exempt from sales tax in at least nine states that have a sales tax. Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania have exempted menstrual products from sales tax, while supporting women and proving that gender equity matters.
The D.C. Council should support the mayor and women and girls who live and work in the District by funding the menstrual products sales-tax exemption in the 2019 budget.