As Maine lawmakers begin to debate the state budget, and whether or not to raise revenue, one line of particular interest is the so-called “tampon tax,” which critics say allows the state to unfairly profit from the sale of necessary menstrual products.
“It is not okay that the state of Maine benefit financially every single month from the fact that 50
percent of their citizens happened to be born with a uterus,” said Sharon Hobson, executive director of the nonprofit One Less Worry, which distribute pads and tampons to residents of Knox County. Hobson was among those who testified Tuesday before the taxation committee on behalf of LD 286, a bill to eliminate the tax.
Imposing a regressive sales tax on products such as tampons, pads and menstrual cups is an example of what is called a “pink tax,” which places an undue burden on women as well as transgender and nonbinary people who menstruate. States often exempt certain items deemed “necessities” from sales tax. In Maine, these include groceries, prescription drugs (including Viagra), and medical devices. Tampons and other hygiene products, however, are taxed at a rate of 5.5 percent.
“I think a woman’s perspective has been lacking in tax policymaking for quite awhile,” said state Rep. Denise Tepler (D-Topsham), who sponsored the legislation.
Tepler told Beacon that she introduced the same bill during the previous legislative session but it failed after the Maine Revenue Service attached what she said was a “very high” fiscal note — which she questioned the accuracy of — worrying lawmakers that the state would lose revenue if the tax were repealed.
“Yes,” Tepler sighed, “if it is a large fiscal note then that means that women are paying an enormous amount of sales tax on their menstruation.”
Tepler said she was prompted to introduce this bill in response to emails she received from people advocating to remove the “discriminatory” tax. She also says that as a mother of three daughters, as well as two sons, she is “very aware of how much a household using tampons or pads can be.”
An often-unacknowledged burden on families
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who founded the organization Period Equity, estimates that people spend $70-$100 per year on these products and that they typically menstruate between the ages of 12 to 50. This amount is compounded in households with more than one person who menstruates.
Further, Tepler notes that in Maine, where there are a “relatively high percentage of households living at or around the poverty line,” many are led by single women. “Those are the families we think about when we are concerned about the cost of menstrual products,” she said, adding that tampons and pads are “among the most requested items” at food banks.
Testifying before the committee on Tuesday, Hobson explained that there are roughly 18,000 women and teen girls of menstruating age in Knox County, with 1,825 of them living in poverty.
“If you are menstruating and have no pads or tampons, you might not go to school or work. You might use an inappropriate substitute such as cardboard, newspaper or worse. You might feel ashamed and struggle more,” she said. “If we care about the education of our girls and if we care about women’s participation in Maine’s economy, we should not knowingly place impediments in their paths.”
Fourteen-year-old Tessa Meil, an eighth grade student at Camden-Rockport Middle School, volunteers with One Less Worry and submitted written testimony to the committee. “[T]hough the pink tax is not very high,” Meil wrote, “the fact that it exists seems to send the message that safe use of pads and tampons is a privilege, not a right, when I know that for a fact to be untrue.”
Speaking with Beacon, Tepler explained that while menstrual products are still taxed, grocery items deemed nutritious are not. “Do we really think that tampons are less important than Delmonico steaks?” she asked
The other issue, she continued, is that “you can’t buy tampons with WIC coupons, or [health savings accounts] like you could eye glasses… and they are not covered by any form of federal or state assistance.”
“The only way we can make them a little more available to people who are struggling is by taking the tax off of them,” she said.
If passed, Maine would join Minnesota, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and Ohio in banning the discriminatory tax.
This piece was edited to remove the term “feminine hygiene products,” replacing it with “menstrual products.”
(Photo: Marco Verch | Creative Commons via Flickr)