For decades, menstrual products have been considered luxury items rather than medical necessities and were taxed as such. In New York State, products used for menstrual health management such as tampons and pads had a tax attached to them, commonly known as the “tampon tax”, while chapstick, face wash and viagra remained tax free. This tax was deemed to be discriminatory towards women as well as a violation to the equal protection clauses and as a result was removed under New York State Tax Laws in 2016.
However, in a city with approximately 20 million people that is 52.35% female, it is hard to believe that it took until 2016 to remove this discriminatory tax imposed on women for their natural bodily functions. It’s important to consider the elimination of the tampon tax to be a step in the right direction but we must not stop there since thousands of homeless individuals in New York City still cannot afford this basic medical necessity. We must not let New York get away with recognizing tampons and pads as medical necessities when it comes to tax law but not as medical necessities when it comes to state benefits for individuals living below the poverty line. This reality that individuals who experience menstruation while also experiencing street homelessness are often times unable to access necessary menstrual products because of the cost burden, must be framed as gender based discrimination and as well as a serious health threat. It is not illegal to be street homeless in New York City and therefore our laws and policies must work towards increasing equity for that vulnerable population.
As of the beginning of 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that everyone in New York City now has the right to healthcare under a program called NYC Care, stating that all NYC residents will have access to the comprehensive health care that they need. If the local government is taking responsibility of the health and well-being of their residents, shouldn’t that be inclusive of women’s health needs? Shifting the responsibility over to local governmental departments is likely the most realistic option available at this time. This would require the city to fulfill their already existing commitment to increasing access to public bathrooms around the city well as for the city to make tampons and pads as accessible as they make condoms.
It is crucial when working to improve the overall health and well-being of our cities residents that we include the vulnerable street homeless population in our approach.
Homeless individuals are no less human than any other resident in the city and individuals who menstruate are certainly no less worthy of health supplies than their male counterparts who receive free condoms. It is time to turn the tide and include women’s health needs in the dominant approach to health.