Women urge DC Council to end so-called 'tampon tax'

Women urge DC Council to end so-called 'tampon tax.' (ABC7)

Following eight other states - including Maryland - the District of Columbia could soon eliminate its so-called "tampon tax". The D.C. Council held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would exempt feminine hygiene and similar products from the District's sales tax.

Advocates for low-income women testified at the hearing, urging passage of the bill. It would add feminine hygiene products to D.C.'s list of tax-exempt items. That list already includes medical supplies, prescription drugs and other necessities.

At-large Council member Anita Bonds introduced the legislation. She said she was baffled when she learned women are taxed on tampons, but men are not when buying Viagra.

Advocates estimate the average woman pays about $50 a year in sales tax on these products and hundreds of dollars in a lifetime.

Bill supporter Shannon Cooper said, “There's a taboo surrounding menstruation and periods and it's difficult for women to talk about and difficult for men to grasp because they don't go through this.”

Bonds’ bill also includes diapers for adults and children. A majority of the Council has already signed on to co-sponsor the legislation, meaning it likely has the votes needed for passage.

The question is: how much will the exemption of these additional products cost the District government? That's unclear.

Even Bonds said she is not sure. However, she and other advocates believe whatever money is saved by consumers will be used to buy other products that are taxed in D.C.

Bill supporter Aysha Iqbal said, “It's not that the revenue will be lost, it will just be going back into the community in a different way.”

The CFO's office is still calculating its projection for lost revenue due to the proposed tax change. That projection is expected to be presented at the next meeting of the Council’s finance committee.

In the meantime, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue suggests that the bill needs clarification.

“There are some urinary incontinence products that aren't quite a diaper and they're not quite a feminine hygiene product,” said D.C. OTR assistant general counsel Elissa Borges, testifying before the committee on Wednesday.

Borges said the bill’s language about absorbent undergarments and wipes should also be clarified. She asked the Council to determine whether the legislation is referring to wipes marketed for women, for babies or for anyone.

That raises another question. Why stop there? Why not also include toilet paper or tissues?

When asked about those products, Bonds said her focus is on health and hygiene so she might just add them to her bill too.

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