Menstrual hygiene products are a basic necessity, but too many women and girls lack access. The homeless and incarcerated are particularly impacted, but access issues are far more widespread. One study found that 20% of girls miss school each month during their menstrual cycle, a figure exacerbated by the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products.

The Homeless Period Project, a non-profit organization based in Greenville, S.C., is working to ensure that all women and girls have the menstrual hygiene products they need. One local barrier they’ve identified is the South Carolina tax code.

In South Carolina, menstrual hygiene products are taxed at the same sales tax rate as general retail products. Dozens of items, such as prescription medicine, hearing aids, and prosthetics, are already exempt from sales tax. Adding menstrual hygiene products to the list of public goods exempted from sales tax would help lower the financial barrier to access for many women and girls.

The Homeless Period Project identified the issue while the DLI Group — Team Period Project — has taken up the challenge to change the tax code.

Our plan includes three steps: 1) identify legislative champions, 2) expand public awareness, and 3) motivate informed individuals and educated lawmakers to introduce and pass a bill exempting menstrual hygiene products from sales tax in the 2020 legislative session.

Well-connected team members worked fast to achieve step one by contacting members of the Lowcountry delegation directly. The team found strong receptivity from members of both parties and in both houses of the legislature. To achieve step two, the group organized a “packing party” to be held on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at a local brew pub. At the event, attendees will bring menstrual hygiene products and assemble care packages customized for schools, prisons, and homeless shelters. Leaders from the Homeless Period Project will be in attendance to help explain the cause. All group members will invite their personal networks to attend. Targeted legislators from the Lowcountry delegation have also been invited, and the team expects to have bipartisan, bicameral representation at the event – a solid foundation for any effort at the State House.

The purpose of the event is to educate friends and colleagues, cement support from prospective bill sponsors serving in the legislature, and expand a base for political support during the 2020 legislative session. The large number of menstrual hygiene packages assembled at the event will be a welcomed bonus for a good cause.

Step three, achieving tax exempt status, is the element least in the groups’ exclusive control as they are only able to equip lawmakers with the facts and provide motivation throughout the session. Even before the “packing party” event, there has been strong, positive feedback. Senator Margie Bright Matthews, a Democrat representing district 45 covering parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper Counties, has already pre-filed a menstrual hygiene products tax exemption bill for the 2020 session. The team’s role will be to work with Sen. Matthews to encourage other members of the S.C. Senate to co-sponsor and to identify a House member willing to file a companion bill.