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A menstrual product dispenser in the Viking Union offers free supplies at the push of a button. // Photo by Ella Banken

Washington becomes the 18th state to rid sales tax on menstrual products

By Hailee Wickersham

A new law that removes sales tax for tampons, pads, menstrual cups and other period products will save women and other menstruating folks in Washington an estimated $3 million dollars in its first year.

On April 3, Senate Bill 5147 was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee after it was passed in the Senate 95-2. The law will remove the sales tax on common feminine hygiene products and other period items starting July 1.

The main sponsor, Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, began her work on Senate Bill 5147 in 2016 when she was serving in the Washington House of Representatives. According to her website, when she joined the senate in 2017, she took the idea along with her.

“Besides being the biggest tax reduction passed by the legislature, it’s probably the best example of fairness and equity to come out of Olympia this year,” Wilson said in a press release on March 10.

The Senate Bill argues that “feminine products are a necessity for most females in the state” and taxing a necessary hygiene product “unjustly adds an additional tax burden on females.”

“It’s especially unfair to women who are low-income or experiencing homelessness, and all the work on this bill has been worth it for their sake alone,” Wilson said in the press release.

In a 2019 survey by Reuters Health, researchers found that nearly two-thirds of low-income women and people who menstruate couldn’t afford to purchase period products such as tampons or pads in 2018. In addition to this, menstrual products aren’t covered by common food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Washington Integrated Nutrition System.

Senate Bill 5147 contends that “taxing feminine hygiene products adds to the regressive tax burden on low-income families.”

Washington is the 18th state to remove its sales tax on menstrual products.

Co-sponsor Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Burien, began supporting the bill in 2017, and calls the tax on period products “tantamount to sex discrimination in taxation.”

“I want to make sure that consumers don’t have to pay an unnecessary tax for a necessary product,” Keiser said.

Until the bill takes effect on July 1, retail tax on menstruation products will be 6.5% according to current state sales tax rates. According to estimates made by the non-profit organization Period Equity, Washington state gains $6.6 million every year in revenue through the sales tax on menstruation products.

When the law takes effect in July, the loss in retail tax revenue will have to be made up elsewhere in the budget.

“That was part of the trade on this, but I think we’re just going to have to accommodate the loss of revenue on this product right now with other budgets,” Keiser said.

Amelita Brown, a second-year student at Western who lives in Washington, was surprised to hear the bill had taken three years to pass.

“I always thought of Washington being more progressive and supportive, so it surprised me that this bill had such a history,” Brown said.

Brown said she hopes that, without the tax, period products will become more affordable, although she feels there isn’t a drastic price difference. Depending on the product, people who don’t pay taxes on period products can expect to save about $0.25 per month, or $10 over an average of 40 years of menstruation.

According to a study titled “The Price of Periods” by the ACLU, people who menstruate can expect to spend upwards of $1,000 over the course of their lifetime on menstrual products. Which doesn’t include common additional expenses that often come with periods such as over the counter pain medication, heating pads, birth control, or acne medication.

Claire McQuistan, another student who attends Western, said that she wasn’t surprised at all that the bill took a while to come into law.

McQuistan said that she is happy to hear that the law passed but she “hopes that lawmakers realize that women are not the only people who experience a period,” she said.

In addition, McQuistan hopes that lawmakers and people will begin to implement more gender-inclusive language when talking about topics such as gender-specific taxation.

“It’s been unjust for a long time for women and people who menstruate to be taxed on products that we, on some level, require in order to live a healthy and sanitary life,” McQuistan said.  


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