By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service
LANSING — An average American woman will spend $3,600 on feminine hygiene in her lifetime. That’s roughly $7 per month for about 40 years.
In Michigan, around $200 of that cost is spent in sales tax alone.
That’s the cost of nearly 67 boxes of breakfast cereal.
Or the cost of 40 jugs of laundry detergent.
Or if you ask gender equality advocate Jenny Kinne, that’s the cost of being a woman.
And women are already at a disadvantage. In 2016, Michigan women earned an average of 74 cents to a man’s dollar, according to the American Association of University Women, and the gap was even larger for women of color.
“We already aren’t at a similar firm standing, and women are paying taxes for something that is a necessity,” said Kinne, the president of the Grand Rapids National Organization for Women (NOW). “I find it kind of interesting and a little odd. Maybe we should prioritize the health and well-being of women.”
When legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to eliminate the 6 percent sales and use tax on feminine hygiene products — colloquially known as the “tampon tax” — Kinne and other women’s advocates in the state said they felt it was about time.
Eliminating the tax would reduce total state revenue by about $5 million per year, according to Senate reports. Portions of the sales tax are designated for the State School Aid Fund, but according to reports, school funds would be replaced by the State General Fund.
“This is not proposing an economic break,” Kinne said. “This is fixing something that is broken. We’ve been paying taxes on products that should have been tax exempt for decades.”
Groceries, prescription drugs, newspapers, fuel and medical devices are among the goods already exempt from the state’s sales tax. Some advocates argue that feminine hygiene products should also be excluded because they’re not considered a luxury item by users — they’re a necessity.
Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, teamed with Rep. Brian Elder, D-Bay City, to get the tampon tax legislation through the House.
“When (legislators) wrote the tax codes, I don’t think they intended for it harming women disproportionately, but I think that was a result,” Brinks said. “This is an effort to remedy that situation.”
Taxes have led to other disproportionate impacts on women, including disparities in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid due to the gender pay gap, among other effects.
Kinne said her organization, which lobbies for reproductive rights, promotes diversity and targets violence against women, is a long-term supporter of Brinks and feels honored that some of the Legislature’s energy is coming from Grand Rapids.
Sens. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, and David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, are the primary sponsors of the bills in the Senate.
“It’s important that our female senators and representatives are being heard and included in the discussion of tax policy — it’s a great and necessary step forward,” Kinne said.
But the legislation isn’t important only because it’s saving women money, Brinks said — it’s a matter of equity.
“For people who crunch the numbers, the cost of the tax on those items specifically isn’t going to massively change the economy,” said Amy Shamroe, president of the Traverse City chapter of the American Association of University Women. “But there’s an acknowledgment that it’s taking away an unfair burden.”
Shamroe said the proposed legislation is a promising first step in addressing gender inequality, particularly during a time where there have been several threats to organizations and programs that assist women.
“If this were to pass, it’s a great showing that the zLegislature is paying attention and listening to things being raised by women and about women,” Shamroe said.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump’s administration has been vocal about opposing abortion, cutting violence-against-women grants and scaling back women’s food assistance programs, among other women-specific services. In late March, Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in the Senate to pass legislation aimed at making it easier for states to restrict federal funds for Planned Parenthood.
Along with economic and equity benefits, the sales tax legislation also has health benefits, Brinks said.
“It’s kind of a little thing when you think of the scope of health care that we all need,” Brinks said. “This is a smaller issue, compared to that large conversation that’s happening, but it’s all a part of establishing (women’s) health care.”
Historically, publicly speaking about menstruation was considered dirty or taboo, Kinne said, and the legislation makes a statement that these topics should not be hidden.
According to Kinne, there may also be a connection between taxing feminine hygiene products and developing toxic shock syndrome. TSS is a bacterial infection that can be caused by leaving a tampon inserted for longer than the suggested two hours.
If women are trying to save money, Kinne said, they may be more likely to extend the use of tampons, making them more vulnerable to TSS. Women may change tampons more frequently if there isn’t as a hard of a hit to their pocketbooks.
The House bills were sent to the Tax Policy Committee. No hearing is scheduled.
The Senate bills were reported favorably by the Finance Committee and were referred to Committee of the Whole. Amber McCann, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said there is no timeline for action on the bills.
By CAITLIN TAYLOR