New ACP Toolkit Helps Members Tackle Period Poverty

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Toolkit resources include information on period poverty and letters to advocate for sales tax-exempt status of menstrual hygiene products at the state and local levels

March 4, 2022 (ACP)—With the introduction of a new toolkit, the American College of Physicians is urging members to help put an end to period poverty.

Period poverty is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, sanitation facilities and adequate education.

“Access to menstrual hygiene products is an issue that impacts so many different types of people in so many different types of settings, particularly vulnerable populations like school-aged individuals, those experiencing homelessness, low-income individuals and incarcerated individuals,” said Josh Serchen, ACP associate for health policy.

There is a clear public health imperative to improve access to tampons, pads, reusable menstrual cups and other products. “When those who menstruate must resort to unsafe and unsanitary alternatives to menstrual hygiene products (i.e., paper towels, napkins, rags, reused tampons/pads, etc.) due to cost concerns, they expose themselves to the risk of numerous devastating health consequences such as urinary tract infections, yeast infections and toxic shock syndrome, among others,” Serchen explained.

The average individual who menstruates will spend roughly $1,800 on menstrual hygiene products during a lifetime. “It is unsurprising that a survey of low-income women in one community found that 64% were unable to afford menstrual hygiene products in the past year,” Serchen said.

This issue is exacerbated by the fact that menstrual hygiene products are typically not publicly funded in budgets for schools, shelters and crisis emergency centers, nor are they readily available or affordable in all correction and detention facilities, he said.

Developed in response to a resolution passed by the Board of Governors, the new ACP toolkit on period poverty aligns with ACP policies on women's health. It includes customized letters for state chapters to send to state and local leaders asking them to exempt menstrual hygiene products from state sales taxes and treat them like other “essential” items and services that are sales tax-exempt.

“Some states currently exempt candy, hair loss treatments and gun club memberships from sales tax, so it is outrageous that menstrual hygiene products do not receive similar treatment,” Serchen said.

Exempting these products from sales tax is a small and concrete action that states, and localities can take to reduce the financial burden of menstruation on individuals, promote equity and improve public health, he said.

As it stands, at least 27 states currently assess a sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, and these states are listed in the toolkit, Serchen noted.

“We are urging our members in those states to advocate to their state legislators and governors to exempt these products in future budgets and legislation,” he said.

ACP has also voiced support for the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021 (H.R. 3614), which aims to improve access to menstrual hygiene products in certain public settings. “We encourage members to urge their federal representatives and senators to support that legislation as well,” Serchen said.

The new period poverty toolkit also provides resources to help inform members on period poverty and bring awareness to social drivers of health in their practices.

The medical community is starting to recognize the role of socioeconomic factors in impacting and producing health. “As we reimagine medicine beyond the office doors and think about ways to address upstream social drivers of health, addressing barriers to accessing menstrual hygiene products is quite essential given that roughly half the population will menstruate at some point in their life,” Serchen said.

More Information

The Advocacy Toolkit: Period Poverty is available on the ACP website.

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