NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a tax break just for women.
Now this is an important story, but you may want to hit pause if you have young ones around.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Right, we’ll be talking about tax relief for certain products only women buy. It’s a popular new policy making the rounds at state legislatures.
Now, to be clear, there was never a special tax applied only to feminine hygiene products. This is about exempting them from state sales tax.
In October, Ohio became the latest state to adopt such a measure. WORLD Radio’s Maria Baer reports now on what’s driving this new trend.
MARIA BAER, REPORTER: By the start of 2019, 10 states had a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products. Those include things like tampons and maxi-pads. Nevada, New York, Florida, Connecticut, and Illinois made the move in the past three years. But this year alone, 22 other state legislatures introduced bills to exempt the products in their states.
ANTANI: As a conservative I believe in tax cuts, that people should keep more of their money…
Republican Ohio state Congressman Niraj Antani was a joint sponsor of what became Senate Bill 26 this year. It started as a tax credit for Ohio teachers. But Antani and others added an amendment to exempt menstrual products during the legislative process. The bill passed both the Ohio House and Senate with unanimous support. Governor Mike DeWine signed it into law in October.
Supporters note that Ohio tax code already included a sales tax exemption for items considered medically necessary—like pacemakers or dialysis machines. Antani said that was the crux of it for him.
ANTANI: So we looked—are these tampons and other products medically necessary, and the answer to me was yes. So once I realized that, I realized this is a legitimate tax cut that should take place.
It’s a politically popular move. Progressive groups like Period Equity and another called Period argue for exempting the products as a principle of gender equality. Republicans, like Antani, argue that any tax cut is a good tax cut.
But there’s a cost. California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced last Spring that his state would eliminate the sales tax on menstrual products and diapers—but only for two years. He said they just couldn’t afford to do it beyond that.
Katherine Loughead is a policy analyst at the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. She researches state trends and tax codes and said the menstrual product exemption is more likely to hurt those it’s meant to help.
LOUGHEAD: It exempts feminine hygiene products from the sales tax, but over time if that leads to an increase in the overall sales tax rate, that increase will apply to every other product women are buying. So over time it would not be surprising at all if women and all other consumers are worse off because they’re paying higher taxes in the long run.
So far, none of the five states that exempted feminine products in the past three years has raised its overall sales tax rate. And Antani’s not worried about the $4 million in sales tax revenue Ohio expects to lose.
ANTANI: Now I will say that $4 million is kind of a rounding error for the state—we spend about $35 billion of state funding a year, and so $4 million is not a huge amount…
Even if the state did start to sweat under the exemption, Antani said he can’t imagine the Republican-controlled legislature would agree to raise the sales tax rate. The answer in that case, he said, would be to cut spending.
SADIIKA: This is the area. We keep them on deck, we’ve got the pads, we’ve got the tampons we got the bandaids…
Khaleeqa Sadiika is the founder of Life Beyond the Streets ministry in Columbus. It operates a drop-in center inside a church on the city’s East Side. There homeless women can get clean clothes, take a shower, or just rest. They can also pick up free feminine hygiene products.
Ohio’s new sales tax exemption will save a Columbus woman roughly 30 cents on a $4 box of 20 tampons. But Sadiika said most of the women she serves still won’t be able to afford them. She relies on donations to keep her center stocked.
SADIIKA: Most of the time, we get them from either Walmart, Walmart likes to donate to us and then we just gotta find dollar stores.
Before overcoming a drug addiction and starting her ministry, Sadiika spent seven years working as a prostitute and living on the street. She knows what it’s like to go without feminine hygiene products. In that situation, she said, women make difficult choices.
SADIIKA: You really don’t want to know the answer to that question, what the girls do.
Most of the time, Sadiika said, women use things that weren’t meant for feminine hygiene. It can be dangerous.
SADIIKA: They might gain access to a tampon and wear it the whole time. One tampon for their whole cycle. You just gotta use what you got, and it causes a lot of disease and infections.
Sadiika said she’d rather lawmakers allow women to use their food assistance funds on menstrual products. Right now, food stamps and other programs only pay for things they can eat.
But those are federal programs, so any changes would require an act of Congress. Ohio State Congressman Niraj Antani said he’d support that. But in the meantime, he’s thinking about other products that should qualify for state sales tax exemptions.
ANTANI: Toilet paper is toilet paper medically necessary. Which I think it, I’m sympathetic to that, so I’ll take a look at it.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Maria Baer reporting from Columbus, Ohio.