Menstrual Equity for All Act, and how it relates to Georgia

It’s estimated that up to 86% of women use tampons, up to 72% use pads, and 75% use panty liners. Most premenopausal women use menstrual hygiene products on a monthly basis and it is estimated that a woman will use up to 16,000 tampons in her lifetime. Regardless of income, women spend a significant amount of money on purchasing menstruation hygiene products each year.

Beyond being cost-prohibitive, different populations of women and girls face unique challenges in accessing menstrual hygiene products. 

That’s the language Representative Grace Meng (D-NY-6) uses to invite her colleagues and advocates to join her in the fight for menstrual equity. At the end of March, she introduced House Resolution 1882. Georgia’s own Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA-4) is one of the 43 cosponsors to date. With the stated goal “to increase the availability and affordability of menstrual hygiene products for individuals with limited access, and for other purposes,” the bill is ambitious.

Its text addresses a few of the pillars that make up Georgia STOMP’s primary work:

  1. Giving states the option to use federal grant funds to provide students with free menstrual hygiene products in schools;
  2. Ensuring that inmates and detainees incarcerated in federal (including immigration detention centers), state, and local facilitates have access to free menstrual hygiene products;
  3. Allowing homeless assistance providers to use grant funds that cover shelter necessities (such as blankets and toothbrushes) to also use those funds to purchase menstrual hygiene products;
  4. Allowing individuals to use their own pre-tax dollars from their health flexible spending accounts to purchase menstrual hygiene products;
  5. Requiring that Medicaid covers the cost of menstrual hygiene products for recipients;
  6. Directing large employers (with 100 or more employees) to provide free menstrual hygiene products for their employees in the workplace; and
  7. Requiring all public federal buildings, including buildings on the Capitol campus, provide free menstrual hygiene products in the restrooms.

Helen Beaudreau, Legislative Director for Meng’s office, states that the goal of the legislation is to address the multifaceted issue of menstrual equity under a single banner. “(Rep. Meng) wants to make sure that affordability and accessibility is achieved across all communities in need.”

If you’ve been following along with our work, you’ll know that our coalition has been fortunate to have successes in working with statewide departments to achieve similar goals.

  1. We championed access to period products for students, and will be at the table with the Department of Education as they develop the grant process to distribute the $1 million added to the budget this year for low income schools to provide free menstrual products to their students.
  2. We’ve established a relationship with the Department of Corrections, and are grateful to have Commissioner Tim Ward supporting unlimited free menstrual product access in state-run prisons, but still have work to do in regards to menstrual product access in local, county and juvenile detention centers.
  3. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) has been a wonderful advocate, improving access to menstrual products for those experiencing situational poverty following an emergency or disaster. Director Homer Bryson swiftly made administrative changes to include menstrual products in the list of basic needs supplies that shelters receiving GEMA funds can purchase with that money. They continue to work to ensure that supply chain logistics are in place so that those who experience homelessness, like our fellow Georgians have after Hurricane Michael, will receive the assistance they need in the short AND long term. Director Bryson recently met with coalition partner, Helping Mamas, to discuss supply chain issues.

We are excited to see the other areas that Rep. Meng and HR 1882’s cosponsors will be addressing with this bill. One of the arguments used against House Bill 8 this year was that not all federal institutions account for the fact that menstrual products are an essential purchase in order for women to participate in society and their education.

We are hopeful that HR 1882’s addition to the menstrual equity conversation helps show employers and federal institutions alike that menstrual product access is a great investment. Perhaps it will help our lawmakers understand the same thing in Georgia.

 

$1.5 Million for Menstruating Georgians

It has been a busy final stretch down under the Gold Dome, and the final 2019-2020 Budget just passed this week with an important addition. Thank you to all the advocates, delegates, and communities who have rallied and continue to rally around an end to #periodpoverty!

$1 million was added to “increase funds for grants to schools for feminine hygiene products for low-income students.”

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$500,000 was added to “increase funds for feminine hygiene products to be provided to low-income clients at county health departments.”

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#HB8 Hearing Recap, and Steps Forward

To date, the work of the Georgia STOMP coalition has focused on 4 pillars, most of which address period poverty and product access in some form — tax elimination, access for school age girls unable to afford products, access in times of situational poverty following a natural disaster and access to those detained in state prisons.

Yesterday, HB8 was heard before the Sales Tax subcommittee. This bill strictly addresses an equity issue – the tax is unfair and should be eliminated on the grounds that women should not support the state budget to the tune of $9M each year on something about which we have no choice.

At yesterday’s hearing, coalition members walked away feeling a combination of emotions: frustration and hopefulness.

First: Frustration. The equity conversation was not heard. Questions from the committee’s chair focused on the minimal savings to an individual the tax elimination would generate, conflating the fairness issue with period poverty and ignoring the larger issue of women paying a discriminatory tax while being economically disadvantaged in our state.

Instead of focusing on the menstrual equity conversation, the subcommittee came to the table ready to talk about ways to address period poverty. That is where coalition members began to feel great hope for the outcome of this meeting!

Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones outlined how the work of the Georgia STOMP coalition and Representative Buckner brought to her attention how challenging it is for those with limited means to purchase menstrual products, making it difficult for them to participate in school, work, and society.

Jones reported to the subcommittee that $500,000 was added to the House budget for feminine hygiene product grants for schools serving low-income students, and her plan to focus those grants on schools with a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch, and in geographic areas with low property values. $500,000 has also been added to the House budget for funding for the Department of Public Health (DPH). We are not clear yet in regards to how the DPH funds will be distributed, just that it will go to “provide funds for feminine hygiene products to be provided to low-income clients at county health departments.” The administration of both of these “pots of money” will be a coalition focus in coming weeks.

As representative of House leadership, Jones made it clear that the House is asking for matching funds from the Senate, which means IF those line items stay in the budget, there will be $2 million going towards menstrual hygiene product access for Georgians in need!

$2 million could put 8 million menstrual hygiene products in the hands of Georgians who desperately need them to participate fully in society, school, and the workforce!

That is not the win we were looking for in the HB8 hearing. We are highly disappointed that the leadership in our state does not yet understand that the tax on menstrual products is discriminatory and should be eliminated on that basis, alone. BUT, the fact that the most powerful woman in the State House is acknowledging the existence of, and seeking to address, #periodpoverty in Georgia, is a huge step forward in the overall progress of our work. As one coalition member said, “The winners: low income girls and women! Sounds awesome to me!”

Because of the proximity of crossover day, Georgia STOMP does not plan to push HB8 forward in this session. This is the first year of the two year term, so it remains a viable bill into next year’s session, and we believe is a bill that CAN be passed in Georgia.

The advancement of menstrual equity issues in Georgia over the last year as a result of Georgia STOMP’s inquiries and work cannot be overstated.

  • Period products added to GEMA’s list of basic needs
  • Period products readily available to detainees in Georgia Department of Correction facilities
  • A highly anticipated addition of significant state funds to directly provide products to school girls and those utilizing our public health systems
  • Conversations at the highest levels of our state government about Period Poverty!

We will keep you posted as we are able to make connections with Speaker Pro Tempore Jones and move forward with already-planned discussions with the DOE.

Claire Cox + Adele Stewart
Co-Leads, Georgia STOMP

What #PeriodProgress Looks Like

#PeriodProgress looks like boxes upon boxes of menstrual products passing through the security gate at the Georgia State Capitol building

#PeriodProgress looks like leaders of state-wide government organizations standing in support of menstrual product access

#PeriodProgress looks like the terms ‘period poverty’ and ‘menstrual equity’ being broadcast in the Rotunda

#PeriodProgress looks like a diverse group of state delegates and advocates showing up on a rainy Tuesday to talk about #periodpoverty and #menstrualequity

#PeriodProgress looks like the elimination of the state sales tax on menstrual products, and continued efforts to ensure that those products are safe, accessible, and affordable.

Ask your State Representative to support House Bill 8, today!

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Macon Periods Easier

A Guest Blog Submitted by Andrea Cooke,

Member of Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us)


On Tuesday night, February 5th, a group of concerned citizens gathered together to listen and learn about how they could help to put an end to period poverty. Several of the people in the room expressed their lack of knowledge about the issue and were not sure about what it was exactly, but they knew they needed to find a way to be of assistance.

Soon after we introduced ourselves we quieted to listen to Claire Cox, the convener of the meeting and the president of Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us).  Almost immediately we could sense the passion that consumed Claire when she began to give us a complete history of how she became aware of this pertinent issue and what Georgia Women and Georgia STOMP had done to begin the work of ending the sales tax associated with feminine hygiene products.

We then watched a powerful story about a girl who faced barriers in the accessibility of feminine hygiene products.  This young girl did not feel that her family could afford the high expense of the products and was glad that she had a resource in her school, that helped fill in the gaps.  The video highlighted a program called the Homeless Period Project, and the story the director told about what wonderful work they do began to help us all to see just why we were there.  As I sat in the room, teary-eyed watching the short video, I noticed very quickly that I was not the only one who was moved.  This was the pivotal moment that solidified for me that I would need to do something, and I feel that the passion displayed in the video was quietly motivating others to activate something inside themselves as well.

Next, we listened to the founder of Helping Mamas, Jamie Lackey, out of Norcross, Georgia.  She’d driven down to speak to us in person about the amazing work she was doing by operating a baby bank and as a result of this work she’d began the work of “helping to connect mamas to mamas needing help!”  It is a wonderful concept and hearing about her passion was certainly contagious.  She shared with us about her willingness to share information and how we could stay connected.

After Claire stated clearly that she was so excited about this movement, she also made it clear that she was sufficiently booked in the realm of taking up causes and she offered us the opportunity to do what we could to help.  Several people spoke up and as a result of that call to action we have now created a leadership team!

…and just like that, we are doing something to help end period poverty in our community!

I challenge all those who read this, regardless of your need for the period products, to pick up a pack next time you go to the store and donate them; it just might make the difference for a girl or woman, who may be choosing between a pad or a meal…

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Abby Nobles, Paula del Rio, Sally Hemingway, Ruth Brooks, Andrea Cooke, Claire Cox

Period Poverty: An Old Stigma, with New Awareness

Today’s blog was written by Bridgette Watson, Board Member of the Homeless Period Project.

Period Poverty. Maybe you have recently heard this term that is gaining national attention. For many readers, this is the first time they are hearing this term. So what exactly does period poverty mean? In short, period poverty refers to a lack of access to feminine hygiene products due to financial constraints. In a recent survey by Always*, “nearly one in 5 American girls and one in seven Canadian girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.” These are just our school-aged girls. This does not account for the number of women living in poverty who are also affected by this monthly. Poverty affects women in the U.S at an alarming rate. According to a report from Shriver, roughly 42 million women live in or close to poverty. Yet most programs designed to help low-income families, including Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC, exclude menstrual products, even though the FDA considers them “medical products.”  There are many areas in which period poverty is prevalent in our society. In the workplace, in our schools, with women facing homelessness, our women who are incarcerated, to just name a few. This is why the term Period Poverty is so important. It is a healthcare crisis that has for years flown under the radar. There has long been a stigma around female menstruation, and that is something that The Homeless Period Project and many other advocacy groups who are fighting period poverty are trying to educate the public on and erase.

You may also be asking yourself, “Is this really an issue in OUR community?” More than likely, yes. Period poverty affects someone in your own community. In Greenville, South Carolina, we were shocked to learn of the dire need for feminine products.

 

What started out as a small mission to provide products to our homeless community, leading to to calls from all across the county that stretched from shelters, to free medical clinics, to our school nurses calling in desperate need for products.  Since 2015, we have been able to provide over 230,000 period packs. So yes, the need is GREAT!

 

What can you do to help those fighting period poverty? Help spread the word! Lack of awareness is one of our biggest hurdles. Find out if there is a local coalition working to help spread awareness about period poverty in your community, and if so, send them a quick email asking how you can help!

Also, become aware of how your state taxes period products. Every state is different. You may be lucky enough to live in a state in which the tax has been removed (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not have a sales tax), and as of November 2018, ten states specifically exempted essential hygiene products (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, and Pennsylvania). If you live in a state in which period products are taxed, find out if your local coalition is working on a project to help remove that tax, and if not, there is no better person to start that fight than you!

We in SC are in the process of starting that fight for the removal of the 6% tax on period products. Even in our state, during tax free weekend, period products are still NOT exempt under the current law! We know it may be an uphill battle that will take some time, but we are committed to fighting the fight and helping our women and girls get relief at the checkout when it comes to purchasing these items. We know for many, a $5-$6 box of tampons or pads is also the price of milk or another necessity they are having to choose between.  

For us, this is not just a social issue. We are working to bring dignity back to those who have long struggled with the stigma surrounding their periods. This is a fight we plan to be a part of for the long haul. We hope you will join us!

 

Bridgette Watson

The Homeless Period Project

www.homelessperiodproject.org

Follow along on Facebook or Instagram

PS: The Homeless PERIOD Project is excited to announce we are a part of a documentary series, Breaking the Cycle: Menstrual Taboos, Myths and Reality.  The director, Nancy Durrell McKenna, is the founder and director of SafeHands for Mothers and the film was produced by Deborah Bayer Marlow of MarlowFilms (http://www.marlowfilm.dk). The objective of the film is to hear the voices of individuals from 7 different countries (girls, boys, men and women) from varying cultures, addressing a different aspect of the challenges surrounding menstruation in their culture or experience. Through their stories viewers will be made aware of the taboos, cultural issues and/or celebrations around menstruation that have an effect on lives around the world.