A Call to Exempt Menstrual Products from Sales Tax

Today (National Period Day) I’m sharing this fantastic research authored by Mikaela McSharry, a University of Vermont legislative intern who is working with me this semester. I am a strong supporter of eliminating the sales tax of period products and introduced legislation to ensure access in Vermont’s public schools.

In Vermont most clothing, bandages and surgical dressings, acne medications, children and adult diapers, disposable heating pads, formal wear, and even garters and garter belts are exempted from sales and use taxes[1]. Menstrual products are not. Access to menstrual products such as tampons, sanitary pads, and menstrual cups is a necessity for people who menstruate and is an issue of equity and dignity. By levying a sales tax on such products, the state government exacerbates inequality and imposes a serious barrier to access, especially for low-income individuals and families. 

Due to the levy of a sales tax on period products, Vermonters pay approximately $7.6 million on menstrual supplies annually – $685,000 of which is spent in sales tax. While this amount accounts for only .01% of the state’s total revenue it places a significant financial burden on individuals who menstruate: the average person who menstruates will spend $1,773.33 on tampons in their lifetime, and if they also use panty liners, that adds another $443.33 to their lifetime cost[2]. Applying the 6% state tax and the average .22% local tax the average person who menstruates in Vermont spends $137.88 in taxes on menstruation products.

While the consequential loss of revenue for the state is not negligible, it is also not a justification for the discriminatory and adverse effects of the tax standard. By exempting menstrual products from the state and local sales and use tax, the state would work to ease such issues of inequity and access for people who menstruate.

When we discuss equity around this issue of access to menstrual products, we must also look at policy to ensure that such products are provided safely and without cost to students in our public schools. For students who cannot count on such products being provided at home, periods can pose a serious obstacle to their education: For nearly one in five American teenagers who live in poverty, lack of menstrual products and support can lead to school absences or the inability to be productive and engaged in the classroom.[3] Yet another public institution that fails to properly serve Americans through menstrual product inequity is incarceration systems (jails and prisons). By denying access to such products, the state creates a culture within prisons where women and girls have to compete for menstrual supplies, endure a period without them, or are otherwise subjected to uncomfortable, unsanitary, and unsafe conditions.[4]

Ultimately, the issue of ensuring equal access to menstrual supplies is an issue of health and an issue of equity. Vermont can and must ensure that its residents maintain equitable access to necessary healthcare equipment by eliminating the sales tax applied to menstrual supplies and providing the products in public institutions like schools and incarceration facilities. Menstrual health can and must be removed from the margins in our conversations about health and healthcare access.

[1] “What Is Taxable and Exempt?” | Department of Taxes, tax.vermont.gov/exempt-items.

[2] Vermont Commission on Women. Taxation of Menstrual Supplies in Vermont Info Sheet, 2019. https://women.vermont.gov/sites/women/files/Info_Sheet_Taxation_of_Mentrual_Supplies_2019_FINAL.pdf

[3] “The Unequal Price of Periods.” American Civil Liberties Union, http://www.aclu.org/report/unequal-price-periods.

[4] Ibid.

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