COLUMBIA — The list of items exempt from South Carolina’s 6 percent sales tax runs 23 pages long and includes rail cars, amusement rides, wrapping paper and even fuel used in test flights.
Absent from that roster are feminine-hygiene products, which brings $3.8 million into state coffers annually through the surcharge.
A Lowcountry legislator backed by state and national advocacy groups wants that to end come next summer, introducing a measure that would free them from the tax. State Rep. Krystle Matthews, D-Ladson, said her bill is a matter not only of common sense but equality.
South Carolina is one of 33 states where tampons, sanitary napkins and other feminine personal care products are taxed.
Period Equity founder Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Sharron Champion, who helped establish the Greenville-based Homeless Period Project in 2015, both lent support to Matthews’ efforts, which is part of a nationwide crusade.
“South Carolina will be joining a movement well in progress,” Weiss-Wolf said. This year, 22 states have introduced so-called “tampon tax” legislation similar to Matthews’ proposal. “It is the failure of states to view these items as necessities and therefore choose to qualify them for an exemption.”
Ohio became the 12th state to eliminate the sales tax on feminine-hygiene products this month.
A sales tax on feminine-hygiene products nationwide leads to about $150 million worth of revenue annually, Period Equity says on its website.
The group planned a Wednesday rally in Greenville.
Weiss-Wolf and Champion said adding sales tax to a commodity the federal government classifies as a medical device is unfair and built on stigma.
“It’s ages old. How are we even talking about a solution if we’re not able to articulate the problem, and part of the reason we’ve not articulated the problem is people are so conditioned to be uncomfortable or embarrassed or ashamed to talk about menstruation,” Weiss-Wolf said. “Once you get out of that system, the whole thing becomes a lot more manageable.”
While tacking a 6-cent surcharge onto the purchase of a box of tampons or other product may seem nominal, it can add up quickly when they’re bought in bulk, as is the case for the state Department of Corrections or school districts, Champion said.
“Somebody that’s homeless or already struggling, the 6 cents on a pack of pads or tampons is not going to be a huge enough difference for them, but to me, it’s also the principle of this, that women’s issues don’t count,” she said. “It’s unconstitutional to charge us a tax on 51 percent of the population experiences for on average 30 years of their lifetime.”
Beth Sundstrom, director of the women’s health research team at the College of Charleston, said it is mainly low-income, homeless and school-age women who struggle to access what they need.
Matthews’ bill isn’t the first aimed at broadening access to feminine hygiene products.
In 2016, Kingstree Democrat Cezar McKnight introduced legislation in the House that would require the items be provided at no cost in all state buildings.
“You would hope that you’re not having to wait for women to be voted in and sitting the table to make these decisions,” Champion said. “Some of the biggest support that we’ve have seen is from men.”