‘That is absolutely egregious’: UT community helps fellow students fight period poverty, legislators plan to pass bill against period product tax

Jade Emerson, News Reporter

Soufia Ali goes from one restroom to another in the Moody College of Communication, refilling drawers with tampons, menstrual pads and liners — all student-donated. However, the supplies always seem to be running out, Ali said.

“Coming back from spring break, I think I only had half a box of tampons left to try to restock those four bathrooms,” said Ali, external director of the Moody Communication Council. “We feel like we’ve been students supporting students for a very, very long time. It’s not always sustainable.”

The Communication Council started its period product initiative in the bathrooms of Moody a few years ago — one of many period poverty initiatives on campus, including those run by the Senate of College Councils and the Women’s Resource Agency. Ali said the Council’s efforts to help relieve the pressure of period poverty, or the inability to access menstrual products, are impeded because period products are taxed as a luxury and not a necessity in Texas and in at least 26 other states. The luxury tax pushes these products further out of reach of low-income people, worsening the impact of menstrual inequity, according to Thinx.

“I feel like it’s crazy to put a tax (on period products). It feels like a punishment for being a person who menstruates,” said Ali, a radio-television-film and health and society junior. “How can toilet paper be a necessity, but menstrual products aren’t? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Ali said students sometimes come up and thank her when she is refilling the bathrooms with supplies and say they appreciate knowing they can access the products for free, whenever needed. The Council wants to expand to all the women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in the Moody buildings, but Ali said that will not be possible with the current amount of donations.

“When women know their schools are providing free menstrual products, and putting them in gender-neutral bathrooms as well, it helps create an inclusive space where students feel cared for,” Ali said.

On a legislative level, state representative Donna Howard plans to author a new bill in 2023 to end the luxury tax on period products. Her bill last year received unanimous, bipartisan committee support, which is almost unheard of, according to Kristén Ylana, Howard’s chief of staff and executive director of Texas Women’s Health Caucus. The bill did not see a vote in the 2021 legislative session because of time constraints, but Ylana said they plan to file the bill sooner in 2023 so it will have a greater chance of a vote.

Because period product taxes only burden part of the population, Howard said it is a discriminatory tax on a medical necessity.

“This is something that should be recognized as a normal, medical, biological function that requires products that should be available without having to worry about accessing (them),” Howard said.

At UT, Ali said she is working with the Council to collect data from the community about its needs and experiences accessing period products. She will then share the data with the Moody administration to ask for additional help acquiring the products for students, Ali said. Two weeks ago, Ali met with other groups running similar initiatives on campus to discuss how to get period products in all UT buildings.

Looking forward, Howard said she is hopeful a bill to end the period product tax will be passed next year.

“So many girls are not showing up for class simply because they do not have access to period products,” Howard said. “They are having to choose to limit their exposure to their educational instruction in the classroom because they do not have period supplies. That is absolutely egregious.”