New York City Bill to Call For Free Tampons in Public School Restrooms, Shelters and Jails


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New York City Council members are joining a growing national movement to improve access to feminine hygiene products, and on Tuesday will introduce proposals for free tampons and pads in city public school restrooms and homeless shelters, and easier access at correctional facilities.

“This has been so taboo for so long, that no one even thought about it,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who led local efforts with a pilot project providing free pads and tampons at a high school in Queens that is being expanded to include 25 schools. “It’s just been something that it has never been O.K. to talk about.”

In addition, Ms. Ferreras-Copeland, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, all Democrats, will introduce a resolution calling on the State Legislature to stop taxing sanitary products. The state does not tax groceries, prescription drugs or condoms, but it does tax tampons and sanitary pads. This month, the New York State Assembly passed a bill eliminating sales tax on tampons and pads, but the measure has yet to pass the Senate.

The proposals by the council members are the latest in a series of efforts around the world that some supporters call “menstrual equity” — a movement that calls for feminine hygiene products to be treated the same as toilet paper and other necessities that are typically not taxed or are supplied free in public restrooms. Chicago rescinded city taxes on sanitary products this month, California lawmakers are pushing for an end to tampon taxes, and Canada scrapped the taxes last year. Efforts to make sanitary products available free in public facilities are underway in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Ms. Ferreras-Copeland said she could foresee making free menstrual products available in the city’s public hospitals, parks and recreational centers, and at youth and community programs.

A bill requiring the New York City Correction Department to provide all female inmates with pads or tampons “immediately” upon their request, and at the facility’s expense, is meant to improve the current way of allocating sanitary products, which is done according to an arcane formula that allots 144 pads a week to every 50 inmates, council members said in interviews.

That works out to about 12 pads per woman per cycle, which may not be sufficient, the council members said. If a woman needs more than that, she may request them or buy them at her own expense at the commissary. The bill calls for eliminating the formula and providing either pads or tampons as requested.

Ms. Ferreras-Copeland called the formula “ridiculous,” and said that every woman had different needs. “You don’t ration toilet paper or ask for permission for more toilet paper,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to for these products.”

The estimated cost to the city was expected to top $5 million a year, most of that for the school system, according to the Council’s finance division. According to one estimate by the advocacy organization Free the Tampons, the annual cost of providing tampons and pads at restrooms in schools and businesses will be less than $5 a year per woman or girl.

The expanded pilot program Ms. Ferreras-Copeland announced last week to install tampon and pad dispensers in 25 public middle and high schools was estimated to cost $160,000 for a year, including the cost of replenishing the supply of products, according to Ms. Ferreras-Copeland’s office.

Women “cannot participate in society without some sort of menstrual product,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a writer and lawyer from Maplewood, N.J., who is a leading advocate for lifting tampon taxes and providing sanitary supplies in public restrooms and schools and coined the term “menstrual equity.” “As a society, we have an interest in ensuring that girls don’t fall behind in school and women aren’t unproductive at their jobs simply because they can’t afford these products,” she said.

This year, Representative Grace Meng, Democrat of Queens, persuaded officials who oversee the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow its homeless assistance funds to cover feminine hygiene products, after she noticed the grants could not be used to buy sanitary pads even though they cover other basic necessities such as toothpaste and diapers. Sanitary products will be added to the list of allowable purchases beginning in April.

Ms. Meng has also introduced legislation that would allow employees to use flexible spending account funds to buy feminine hygiene products. Right now the money can be used to cover certain medical items like prescription eyeglasses and bandages, but not sanitary pads or tampons.


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