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Tax on menstrual supplies adds to shortage pressure

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The director of a nonprofit that specializes in menstrual supplies said Tuesday, exempting menstrual supplies from sales taxes would aid those in need long after shortages end.

Rachael Heger, the Indianapolis-based director of affiliate outreach for the national nonprofit I Support The Girls, said her organization has received about 200,000 fewer tampon donations than it normally gets by this time of year. She said she has repeatedly encountered empty shelves when buying supplies, as have donors.

“It’s a matter of dignity. This impacts folks every day that they’re menstruating,” she said. “When we are able to provide a big variety of products, then they are able to take this off of their plate.”

Heger said tampon shortages have been the most noticeable, though sanitary pads and other items have gotten harder to find as well, especially as people have sought tampon alternatives. IU Kelley School of Business Prof. Kyle Cattani said menstrual care products face the same supply chain pressures as other items. He said many of the disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic involve workers getting sick or leaving their jobs. That affects the ability to work with the raw materials that go into such products, which also are needed for other items such as hospital supplies. Cattani said, global supply chains over the past 30 years have prioritized efficiency over redundancy so there was no way to take up the slack.

Not every nonprofit that deals with menstrual supplies has reported the same problems. Officials with Second Harvest Food Bank in Muncie, which provides menstrual care products as well as food, said they haven’t had problems getting supplies. They noted their organization is part of the National Alliance for Period Supplies, which receives donations directly from manufacturers and thus bypasses retail bottlenecks. I Support The Girls depends more on individual donations.

Here in Indiana, Heger said girls and women who need menstrual care supplies face an additional hurdle in the form of the state’s 7 % sales tax. Indiana is one of 27 states that still charge sales tax on such products. Legislation sponsored this spring by Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, would have ended the sales tax for menstrual supplies but the bill never got a hearing. Heger said, the tax forces lower-income women to divert more of their savings to tampons and other supplies that could otherwise go to items such as food.

“It’s a double-whammy for menstruators in Indiana when we have these items that are taxed,” Heger said. “To face a price increase as well as a shortage and then you tax on top of that, it just seems like too much.”

Several states in recent years have repealed their sales taxes on menstrual products, including Illinois in 2016 and Michigan last year. In Illinois, an analysis by the University of Chicago found prices for both tampons and sanitary pads rose slightly after the state’s 6.25 % sales tax was lifted, though consumers still ended up spending less overall. Cattani said consumers are unlikely ever to see the full benefit of a sales tax repeal. Since consumers need menstrual products no matter how much they cost, he said manufacturers and retailers don’t have to worry about reducing demand if they hike prices.

“It’s not a dollar-for-dollar and it might not be the most productive thing that the government could do, but it might help,” he said.

Heger said even if exempting menstrual products from the sales tax doesn’t result in true dollar-for-dollar savings, every little bit would help consumers.