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Proposed Kentucky law aims to un-tax period products

White pads with blue dots wrapped in white plastic, a tampon wrapped in blue as well as small white tampons with a gold band, and a stack of panty liners
Photo by Natracare on Unsplash
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Photo by Natracare on Unsplash
Menstrual products are subject to Kentucky sales tax. Proponents of changing that say they are essentials, not luxuries.

Menstrual products are currently subject to sales tax in Kentucky. But a proposal at the General Assembly seeks to change that.

The bill would remove all sales tax from products that people with periods need and rely on, like tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups and pads.

State Rep. Lisa Willner, a Democrat from Louisville, is sponsoring the legislation. She’s been working alongside students from Mercy Academy to advocate for the change.

“They see this as a body shaming issue. They see it as an economic justice issue,” Willner said. “Feminine hygiene products, which are not optional products, are subjected to the sales tax and are classified as luxury items.”

Jessica Gross, a junior at the academy, pointed to an inequity in Kentucky’s tax exemption laws.

“I think it's important to recognize that products that men can use, like condoms, aren’t taxed,” Gross said. “So are many groceries, toothbrushes and other hygiene products.”

The Kentucky Department of Revenue lists medicated condoms — along with "creams, foams, and jellies" — as contraceptives exempt from sales tax.

She added period products are just as essential as the other goods.

Prescription medications are also exempt from sales taxes. While the majority are life-saving or medically necessary, the category includes Viagra, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction.

“Some people need to have their eyes opened, almost. And understand that women also need an opportunity to have these products at hand without worrying about the tax on them,” Gross said.

Period poverty: an epidemic

According to the nonprofit Alliance for Period Supplies, about one in four people in the U.S. who menstruate can’t afford period products. The national advocacy effort aims to make it easier for people to get period products and raise awareness about period poverty.

According to a report from NielsenIQ, in the first half of 2022 tampon prices rose by an average of nearly 10% and the cost of pads went up by a little more than 8%. On Walmart.com, tampons now typically cost $5-$8 per box, while a typical package of pads costs about $6. Many people purchase these products frequently, even multiple times per month.

There’s also a lingering shortage of period products resulting from a number of complications like supply chain issues and higher material costs. According to a January report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall consumer prices were about 6% higher than they were last year. Prices jumped half a percent between December and January, signifying the possibility of continued inflation in months to come.

Shelby Vikre, another student advocate at Mercy Academy, said taxing products that people can’t go without creates an undue burden on anyone who menstruates. She said the added tax costs could mean the difference between getting more food and not.

“Even if it's just a little difference, [people] can buy more groceries or they can contribute it towards more household items they need,” Vikre said. “The more they're able to build themselves up, even if it's just that little difference, the more it can benefit the economy itself and the more it can benefit the people around them.”

Steps toward change

Twenty-four states, including Ohio, Illinois and Virginia, have already enacted measures exempting period products from sales taxes. Another five states, including Delaware, Montana and New Hampshire don’t impose sales taxes at all.

In an effort to address period poverty, CVS Health lowered the cost of company-branded menstrual products last October. It also began paying sales taxes on period products on behalf of customers in 12 states, including Tennessee, Missouri and Louisiana. The company said laws in other states prevent it from covering the cost of customers’ taxes.

Former Democratic state Rep. Attica Scott proposed similar measures in recent years, but the Republican-controlled legislature refused to advance them. In addition to menstrual products, Scott’s proposals included baby supplies such as diapers, breast pumps and feeding bottles.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Attica Scott said the proposals would help poor Kentuckians by eliminating a tax on essential items.

Willner said her proposal this year to exempt period products from sales tax has garnered bipartisan support.

“I'm hopeful that having more women in the legislature means more awareness for some of our male colleagues about how important and essential these issues really are to us,” Willner said.

According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, women occupy 40 of the 138 seats in Kentucky’s state legislature. That’s 16 more than in 2013, or a nearly 12% increase over the last decade.

Legislators co-sponsoring the bill are Republican Rep. Samara Heavrin of Leitchfield as well as Democratic Reps. Ruth Palumbo from Lexington and Louisville’s Daniel Grossberg and Tina Bojanowski.