The Salt Lake City Council has set aside $20,000 in funding for a one-year pilot program that will soon make feminine hygiene products available for free at bathrooms in some city buildings.
The three women currently serving on the council — Amy Fowler, Ana Valdemoros and Erin Mendenhall — spearheaded the “menstrual equity” initiative together as part of the council’s 2019 budget package and say they hope it will help push state lawmakers to take action on the issue.
“We’ve been talking about we should start here at our own house and make these products free and then work forward towards getting rid of the tampon tax,” Fowler said at a recent budget hearing.
“We don’t charge people for toilet paper and women’s access to feminine hygiene products shouldn’t be charged either, in my opinion, and I think in my peers’ as well,” Mendenhall added.
Advocates in other states — including Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey — have successfully eliminated the tax.
But Utah still imposes a sales tax on disposable hygiene products, including children’s diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons and adult diapers, despite years of efforts by state Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna. This year, her bill died in committee; in 2016, an all-male panel of lawmakers defeated the measure.
Many public bathrooms have menstrual products available for a small fee, usually payable with a single quarter. But in researching the proposal, Fowler told The Salt Lake Tribune that the city found each feminine hygiene unit costs only 8 cents to make.
“Every time I came out of the bathroom I would just get so angry — like why are we charging women for these?” Fowler told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview. “In my mind, it’s a subtle and hidden form of sex discrimination.”
In a news release on Tuesday, the council noted that some estimates suggest those who menstruate will spend as much as $1,800 on hygiene products throughout their lives and cited a 2019 study in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, which reports that two-thirds of low-income women were unable to afford feminine hygiene products.
Free products will initially be available at City Hall and possibly also at the downtown public library, where Fowler said they will make a big difference for vulnerable populations.
“Several of our women experiencing homelessness don’t have access or an ability to have feminine hygiene products,” she said. “So I hope that women and people who menstruate will feel comfortable and know that we’re here to help, that this is what the city is about — finding ways to provide resources to people who don’t have them.”
The council is working to assure the city’s enterprise funds, including the airport, public utilities and golf, have the budget to provide free tampons and pads at additional city-owned buildings and at all city library branches.
Nancy Volmer, communications and marketing director with the Salt Lake City International Airport, said the airport is hoping to have menstrual products available to travelers for free by the time the new terminal opens in September 2020.
“Last year we had more than 25 million passengers come through the airport,” she said in an interview. “I can’t tell you how many of those were female versus male but it’s probably a matter of convenience for our passengers to provide another service for them.”