By Anna Bisaro
Before going to work Monday morning, Rep. Kelly Luxenberg, D-Manchester, said she dropped a pair of shoes off to be repaired, subscribed to a magazine and bought tampons for herself and diapers for her daughter. The latter two items on her to-do list, the two things that she said were necessities, are subject to a sales tax in Connecticut while the first two are not.
There are more than 120 items exempted from sales taxes in Connecticut, and Luxenberg is working to add feminine hygiene products and disposable and reusable baby diapers to that list.
Luxenberg is one of the co-sponsors of Senate Bill 216, which seeks to eliminate the sales tax on feminine hygiene products and disposable diapers, taxes which reportedly generate close to $8 million for the state annually.
“I believe that this is such a fundamental issue,” Luxenberg said, adding that it was simply unfair to tax products that only women need, at least in regard to feminine hygiene products.
While Connecticut does not specifically tax tampons and sanitary pads, these goods are currently deemed “luxury goods” and are not exempt from sales taxes, as they are in only five states, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, argued that taxing feminine hygiene products is a “form of gender discrimination that some consider laughable.”
“Getting one’s period is a biological function, not a choice,” Treiss said. “It is worth questioning why a uniquely women’s product is taxed, when so many others are not.”
All of the speakers Monday admitted it’s not only women changing diapers, but advised that the financial burden of buying diapers can be especially difficult for single mothers.
Treiss said the sales tax on tampons and sanitary pads generates $3.6 million annually and the sales taxes on baby diapers generate $4.2 million annually.
Adult diapers are exempt from sales taxes.
Similar versions of the bill have been unsuccessfully introduced in the past. The Public Health Committee heard testimony Monday afternoon on the issue of the sales tax exemption.
According to Luxenberg’s testimony at the hearing, the average woman menstruates 470 times in her lifetime.
The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women reports that women can spend more than $18,000 on their menstrual periods over their lifetime, if all costs associated with menstruation are taken into consideration. In addition, diapering a baby costs an average $18 per week.
State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, another supporter of the bill, said legislators understand the budget problems facing the state of Connecticut, but relying on the taxes from these products was something that could no longer be done.
“We have to do more with less and we can do more with less,” Candelaria said.
He argued that too often there are women that have to struggle with decisions about buying sanitary pads for themselves or diapers for their children.
“Some of the poorest households in our state rely on a female breadwinner,” Candelaria said.
When women are faced with these challenges, oftentimes they make decisions to try to stretch out the supply of these products, which can have adverse effects on health, including rashes and serious infections.
Janet Alfano, executive director of the Diaper Bank, also spoke on behalf of the bill Monday, both at the press conference and the hearing.
Alfano said eliminating the sales tax would not solve the social justice issues that place single women in situations in which they cannot pay for both tampons and diapers, but it’s a chance for the state to make an impact.
She said eliminating the sales tax on feminine products is “quite literally, the very least we can do.”