New York State is on track to abolish a tax on feminine hygiene products, after a bill to end the so-called tampon tax unanimously passed both the state senate and assembly this week. The law is now headed to Governor Andrew Cuomo's desk, where its approval is assured.
“Repealing this regressive and unfair tax on women is a matter of social and economic justice," Cuomo said in a statement. "I look forward to signing it into law."
Under current law, New York State exempts medical items from its sales tax, but excludes pads and tampons from the "medical" classification. According to the Department of Taxation's guide for retailers [PDF], feminine hygiene products are "generally used to control a normal bodily function and to maintain personal cleanliness." This differentiates them in the fine print from over-the-counter medication for a "vaginal infection," which treats a "specific medical condition."
Critics have called the state's 4% sales tax on tampons and other feminine hygiene products—but not "medical" items like Rogaine, adult diapers and dandruff shampoo—discriminatory and misogynistic, putting an outsized burden on low-income consumers. Earlier this year a group of women filed a class action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, arguing that the tax violates the Equal Protection clauses of the United States and New York State Constitutions.
"This is one of many laws made by men and for men," said attorney Zoe Salzman at the time. "If men menstruated once a month, there is no way there would be a sales tax on these products."
The bill also includes specific language exempting panty liners from the tax, as well as DivaCups and period underwear (a product that's recently raised a few eyebrows in response to a subway ad campaign).
“It was very important that the bill language was broad enough to envisage new menstrual products,” said bill sponsor Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal in a statement Wednesday. “If and when the day comes that a new and improved menstrual technology hits the market, this law, once it is signed, will provide us with flexibility so that we don’t have to go back in and amend the law to exempt each and every new product, that new product will simply be exempt.”
The exemption will go into effect on September 1st, at which point New York State will finally be on par with Canada.
In the meantime, Queens City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras would like NYC to take it a step further, with free tampons for teen girls distributed in public schools. Twenty-five middle schools and high schools in the Bronx and Queens are already proving that this can work.