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New bill would provide schools with free feminine hygiene products, exempt them from state sales tax

A new bill would exempt sales tax on feminine hygiene products and make them free in public schools through a recurring grant program, Rep. Julie von Haefen, the primary bill sponsor said Tuesday.

At a press conference at the General Assembly, students and legislators explained how the measure could help families afford feminine hygiene products, which can be expensive.

“It is a monthly expense that many individuals and families simply can not afford,” said von Haefen (D-Wake) at the press conference. “Access to menstrual products is a factor that impacts students well being, attendance and performance. For this reason, we worked hard in a bipartisan effort to ensure that the budget had funding for The Feminine Hygiene Products Grant Program.”

The funds would be directed to public schools to purchase the products.

Feminine hygiene products will include tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins and other similar products. Grooming and hygiene products such as cleaning products, soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, etc. are not included in the bill.

Von Haefen also mentioned how the rise of inflation is a key factor in the affordability of feminine hygiene products. The products are considered luxury items, and subject to a 4.75% state sales tax, too.

“This tax has a disproportionate impact on low-income menstruators and can lead to having to choose one essential over another,” said one Cary high school student. “For low-income students, in particular, a lack of access in affordability of [menstrual] products can make a difference in their education.”

Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake)

Currently, states such as Virginia, New York and California have already passed legislation requiring schools to provide free menstrual products for students. More than 20 states have also ended the sales tax on feminine hygiene products – some include Vermont and Maine.

Students and advocates also mentioned the safety measures the bill will give those who need the products – menstruates have had to resort to using toilet paper and rags to manage feminine hygiene – such measures can be unsanitary.

Some students have also had to go to their school’s front office to receive menstrual products or leave early altogether – hindering attendance and learning.

The Menstrual Equity for All bill will be the next step of what the assembly had previously passed for local schools and diaper banks to reduce menstrual poverty and increase equity for families who can not afford feminine hygiene products.

The End Menstrual Poverty Act, passed last year as part of the state budget, let public school units apply for grants of up to $5,000 to purchase feminine hygiene products. Grants were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Money ran out in less than a week according to The Department of Public Instruction, which sent a report to the legislature. 

The $250,000 appropriation was claimed in less than a week, and fewer than half of the 134 applications were funded. The legislature made the money available only for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Funding for the grant program in the new bill will be appropriated from the General Fund to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) with $500,000 in recurring funds going into the next fiscal year. 

Along with Rep. Haefen, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake), Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham), and Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg). Sen. Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) helped appropriate the funding for the bill, with Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe) assisting with last year’s funding.

James Burrell is a summer journalism fellow with NC Policy Watch, sponsored by the States Newsroom. He graduated from NC Central University, where he co-edited the student newspaper, the Campus Echo.

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