How Michigan addressed period poverty by getting rid of the Tampon Tax

This article is part of Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Kent County youth in partnership with Rapid Growth staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, Solange Sifa reports on how the gender gap affects women and includes insights from her peers.

One in four American students do not have access to menstrual cycle products and 84% of students have either missed school or know someone who has because of their menstrual cycle. In addition to absences, academic performance and individual health are at risk when students cannot practice proper menstrual hygiene.

This is called period poverty, and it is not limited to U.S. students. In fact, more than 500 million individuals worldwide do not have access to menstrual products. Because so many people lack the money and resources to buy and replace menstrual products, they are reusing existing products. This method, though, is a health risk.

Researchers found “around four in 10 of those who found it hard to afford period products in the past year were leaving pads or tampons in place for longer.” Overusing menstrual products is detrimental to a person’s health and can cause many risks, such as toxic shock syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Addressing menstruation as a high school student

As a teenage student, this information shocked me. Imagine having to pay lots of money because you have something that no one ever wishes for or can get rid of. It would be great not to have to pay for such things.

There have been many instances when I didn't have a pad with me. It's so scary having your period in class, too, especially when I know my period has come. I often can't stand up because I am afraid there is a stain on my chair and people will notice.

Photo by Tommy AllenSolange Sifa discusses period poverty with a fellow student.

It’s just as intimidating to walk to the bathroom, as there might be stains on my back. So, I just sit in my seat, dreading having to move. I always felt so mortified by the thought of having bloodstains on my pants. I always feel insecure and constantly have to check if there is blood on my clothing.

The average person who menstruates will spend more than $4,800 on menstrual products in a lifetime. Michigan’s sales tax added another $288 in what is sometimes referred to as a “tampon tax.” I wondered what other students thought about making people pay for sanitary products.

“It has become normal for people to have to pay for feminine care,” says Lee High School student Vanely Bastardo Guzman. “I guess it's fine, as long as they are not overcharging.”

Michigan eliminates the ‘tampon tax’

Before 2022, individuals could purchase toilet paper without being taxed, but not menstrual products. That’s because Michigan’s tax code used to put pads and tampons under “luxury goods.” As a result, Michigan received $7 million per year just in menstrual product taxes.

This is an example of “the pink tax,” where gender determines how much a person pays for products. Another example is the price difference between men’s and women’s razors, even though they are the same product.

Fortunately, our state ended the tax for menstruation products in 2021. On Nov. 5,
2021, Acts 108 and 109 of 2021 were signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The acts define menstrual products as "tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins, and other similar tangible personal property designed for feminine hygiene in connection with the human menstrual cycle."

At the bill’s signing, Gov. Whitmer shared how this change will impact Michigan

"Over the course of a lifetime, the average menstruating Michigander will use 17,000
tampons. That's 456 periods, costing seven to $10 a month, adding up to between
$3,360 and $4,800 over the lifetime," she said.

Getting rid of the tax was good for Michigan, because nobody should have to pay that
much money for basic healthcare needs. While this does not get rid of the Pink Tax
entirely, it is a step in the right direction.

Photo by Tommy AllenSolange Sifa is a sophomore attending Lee High School.
Solange Sifa is a sophomore attending Lee High School. She likes learning new things. She’s extremely passionate about literature and archeology. She hopes to one day inspire people to pursue their dreams.

To learn more about Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here. This series is made possible via underwriting sponsorships from the Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, PNC Foundation, and Kent ISD.
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