State approaches to increasing access to safe and affordable menstrual products include requiring schools, correctional facilities or homeless shelters to provide supplies at no cost to the individual and exempting menstrual products from added sales tax to increase affordability.
To increase access to menstrual products, some states have passed laws requiring period products to be provided at no cost in schools, correctional facilities and homeless shelters. At least 12 states and the District of Columbia provide free menstrual products in schools, at least 24 states and the District of Columbia provide free menstrual products in correctional facilities and at least three states provide free menstrual products in homeless shelters.
Since 2020, 10 states and the District of Columbia passed bills either creating or expanding requirements to provide free menstrual products in public schools. For example, Delaware passed HB 20 in 2021 requiring all public and charter schools with students in grades six to 12 to provide free menstrual products in 50% of female bathrooms. In 2022, Utah passed HB 162 providing period products free of charge to students in each female or unisex restroom within an elementary, middle, junior or high school. Alabama passed HB 50 creating a grant program to provide menstrual products to female students in grades five through 12 through a female school counselor, female nurse or female teacher in certain schools. Alabama appropriated $200,000 in its 2022 education budget to fund the program.
Four states, including Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi and North Carolina have passed bills within the last two years requiring free menstrual products be accessible within correctional facilities. Arizona passed SB 1849 in 2021 providing menstrual products, including tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual sponges and menstrual cups, to female inmates free of charge upon request. That same year, Mississippi passed HB 196, the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” ensuring sufficient personal hygiene products are available at each facility for all incarcerated women.
Illinois, Maryland and New York require period supplies be available at no cost in homeless shelters. For example, New York passed S 6572 in December 2021 and S 7697 in February 2022 to provide menstrual products at no cost to individuals receiving temporary housing assistance and receiving temporary shelter, respectively.
To address the potential financial barriers to purchasing menstrual products, some states have passed legislation exempting menstrual hygiene supplies from state sales tax. Menstrual products are commonly classified as a nonessential good and subject to sales tax, which ranges from 4% to 10% of the price of the product. At least 21 states have eliminated sales tax on period supplies, including Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska which passed bills exempting sales tax within the last year. New Mexico passed HB 163 in March 2022 allowing retailers to deduct the tax on the products from gross receipts and governmental gross receipts rather than removing the sales tax from period products directly. The bill also requires that the New Mexico legislature evaluate the effectiveness and total number of taxpayers that claim the exemption in 2023.
In 2021, Illinois passed HB 155 which allows recipients of benefits provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to use their benefits to purchase menstrual products. However, under current federal policy, menstrual supplies are not eligible purchases under SNAP or WIC.
Congress passed two laws related to increasing access to menstrual products. In 2018, Congress passed S 756, also known as the First Step Act, requiring that all federal prisons make tampons and sanitary napkins available free of charge. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, signed into law in 2020, allows menstrual products to be paid for with pre-tax dollars using a Flexible Savings Account or Health Savings Account.