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Water & Sanitation

US Government Acknowledges Period Products Are Necessities in COVID-19 Stimulus Bill


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and waste management. During a crisis, it is especially difficult for people to manage their periods safely and with dignity. We must break harmful taboos about menstruation, provide education, and promote safe sanitation. You can join us and take action on this issue here.

Menstrual products can finally be purchased with health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) in the United States.

President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act on Mar. 27 and, in the fine print, menstrual products are listed as eligible items covered by HSAs and FSAs. The bill also allows anyone with HSA or FSA funds to file for reimbursement of menstrual products purchased in 2020. 

HSAs and FSAs allow employers to deposit funds into pre-tax accounts for each pay period to cover medical expenses ranging from doctor visit co-pays to prescriptions and other over-the-counter products, like condoms and pain relievers.

The stimulus bill designed to boost business and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 recognizes menstrual products — tampons, pads, liners, cups, sponges, or similar products used for menstruation — as medical expenses in Sec. 3702

The CARES Act does not specify whether or not menstrual products will remain protected in future tax law after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. 

Menstrual equity advocate and founder of the organization Period Equity Jennifer-Weiss Wolf said the bill’s acknowledgment of menstruation is a silver lining.

"The idea that gender equity and menstrual equity are finding their way into the policy solutions and crisis interventions that our leaders are forging is really important," she told Global Citizen.

Menstrual products previously were not officially FSA and HSA approved because of how they are classified in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code, and purchasing them with the accounts could warrant a 20% penalty charge. 

The US House of Representatives passed a similar bill introduced by US Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) to include menstrual products as FSA- and HSA-approved items in 2018, but it never reached a Senate vote. 

During a pandemic, people who menstruate across all socioeconomic backgrounds struggle to access period products, but it is especially challenging for vulnerable communities who have lost employment or housing. Before COVID-19 hit, 25 million women who were living below the poverty line in the US were already at risk of living without consistent access to period products. The tampon tax, a term used to describe the taxing of period products as luxury items in 30 states, makes period products even less affordable for people in need.

Related Stories March 17, 2020 'Periods Don't Stop for Pandemics,' Says Menstrual Equity Activist Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

While the stimulus bill only offers menstrual product relief for employed people who menstruate and have access to an FSA or HSA fund, it is a start, according to Weiss-Wolf, whose organization is actively working to eliminate the tampon tax in all 50 states.

"It's important that any policy that can and could acknowledge and elevate menstruation and menstrual access does so, because it lays the groundwork for additional and more expansive policy reform," Weiss-Wolf said. "The particular wording in the stimulus bill acknowledges the medical necessity of these products. That will be an important bedrock for future policy advocacy."