The City Council has approved legislation that will bring free tampons and pads to the city's public schools, shelters and prisons before the end of the year.
Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has been advocating for free tampons in schools since last summer. "Periods have been stigmatized for far too long," she said on Tuesday. "Today the Council will help end that stigma. Young women will no longer miss class because they don't have a pad or tampon."
To emphasize the goal, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito raised a tampon over her head and placed it on the table in front of her podium. "I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders," she said.
— Brigid Bergin (@brigidbergin) June 21, 2016
Today's unanimous vote comes on the heels of the state's decision to abolish the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, spearheaded by Manhattan Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Senator Sue Serino of Dutchess County.
Feminine hygiene products can cost as much as $100 per year, according to the City Council Women's Caucus. The group argues that for low-income women, the expenditure competes with necessities like food, rent, and basic toiletries.
Starting in mid-October, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services will be required to provide feminine hygiene products to all women in temporary shelters, as well as girls in foster care and juvenile detention facilities. The Department of Correction will be required to provide the same products immediately upon request in city jails, and the Department of Education will be on the hook for public middle and high school restrooms. Following a successful pilot program at schools in Queens and the Bronx—spanning primarily low-income neighborhoods including Corona, Glendale, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Grand Concourse and Tremont—dispensers will be installed in 800 schools.
Anyone in NYPD custody for more than 48 hours will also have a right to pads or tampons upon request.
While NYC inmates technically already have access to pads—the DOC supplies a limited number of generics and sells name brands at the commissary—advocates told the City Council earlier this month that the policy was insufficient. At the Rose M. Singer center on Rikers Island, for example, the DOC reportedly provides 144-count boxes of thin pads each week for 50 inmates. In other words, 14 pads per person, per week, if ten women are menstruating at the same time. Today's legislation will also make tampons available to inmates for the first time.
All told, the legislation is poised to serve hundreds of thousands of people, including several hundred thousand students, and about 23,000 women and girls in city shelters. Food pantries and after-school programs will also be able to submit pads and tampons as budget expenses for the first time.
Also today, the City Council approved legislation that will require all single-stall restrooms to be gender neutral and amend city plumbing codes to require existing single-occupancy bathrooms be usable by people of any gender. The new rules will be enforced starting January 1st of next year.