Faculty News

Gov. Whitmer Signs Bill at U-M Repealing Taxes on Feminine Hygiene Products

Image of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sitting holding a bill surrounded by other women posing for a photo

By Erica Colaianne
November 5, 2021

At the Michigan Union on Friday, November 5, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill repealing the 6 percent use tax on feminine hygiene products. Whitmer was joined by Senator Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), faculty from Michigan Medicine and the Ford School of Public Policy, and student representatives from Central Student Government, the Black Student Union, La Casa, and Greek Life as she signed Senate Bill 153 exempting menstrual products from the use tax one day after she signed House Bill 5267 at the Greater Lansing Food Bank exempting these products from the 6 percent sales tax.

Repealing the ‘tampon tax,’ as it is commonly referred to, has been a long sought-after goal by some Michigan legislators and advocacy groups working to address the inequity that exists in considering menstrual products a luxury item rather than a medical necessity. 

“We have been trying to get this done for a decade almost. Many times, I have put my name on this bill as a legislator. I never dreamed, number one, we’d get it done; number two, it would take this long to get it done; and number three, that I’d be the one that gets to sign this bill in law. So again, I’m really happy to be here,” Whitmer said, adding that it was extra special to sign the bill at the University of Michigan during Parents Weekend as she is a parent of two Wolverines.

Whitmer spoke about bipartisanship and unity, emphasizing that the bill repealing the tax is part of the bipartisan package. Michigan now joins 20 other states that have taken this step.

Image of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a woman with brown hair, standing at a podium in the Michigan Union

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs a bill eliminating the “tampon tax” at the Michigan Union in Ann Arbor on Nov. 5, 2021.

“This is a bipartisan tax cut. I am proud we have gotten this done together. This repeal will save families from paying taxes on up to $4,800 of spending over the course of a lifetime. That’s money that can go toward paying bills, putting food on the table, or saving for a car, a home, education, or retirement. Today we are making our tax code more equitable and more just by helping people who have been disproportionately impacted — especially in the current economy, especially women, and especially lower-income Michiganders.

“I am proud we are putting Michiganders first and driving down costs while building on our track record of coming together to get the job done for our families across the state.”

Dee E. Fenner, MD, Bates Professor of Diseases of Women and Children and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, spoke at the event and stated that this is a step in furthering the fair and equal treatment of women. She explained that it is estimated that women living in poverty at some point in their lives have to choose between buying menstrual products or purchasing essential items.

“Menstruation is not a choice. It is a basic biological process. Yet many girls and women cannot afford the feminine hygiene products they need to be able to go to school, go to work or leave their homes. It is estimated that 20 percent of women and girls living in poverty at some point must decide between buying food or period-related products. This bill will help reduce that burden,” Fenner said.

Dee Fenner, MD, standing at a podium

Dee E. Fenner, MD

The elimination of the sales and use taxes on menstrual products includes disposable products like tampons, sanitary napkins, and also reusable products such as menstrual cups. Prior to the bills, menstrual products have been taxed as a luxury item.

Students attending the bill signing expressed their excitement that the tax is being repealed and their hope that this change empowers others to take similar steps to remove unfair taxes. 

“The signing of this bill is an incredible step toward making menstrual products more accessible for all menstruating individuals in Michigan. I hope this encourages more states to sign similar bills and I hope this leads to even more change in the future — my dream is to see a day where menstrual products are freely accessible in all public places,” said U-M student Bryn Jackson, Class of 2022, Executive Director of Panhellenic Peer Educators Sexual Violence Education and Empowerment Branch. “I first learned about menstrual inequity in a women’s studies class I took here at Michigan, so having that come full circle by being able to actually witness Gov. Whitmer sign this bill on campus is a surreal experience and makes me so proud to be a Wolverine!” 

Betsey Stevenson, professor of economics at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy spoke at the event in the Michigan Union about the positive impact this will have on families, especially low-income women. 

“By signing these bills into law and eliminating the tampon tax, Governor Whitmer is taking a step to economically empower women and people with menstrual periods. Research shows that low-income women bear the greatest burden from the taxation of menstrual products. Removing this tax makes our tax system fairer and correctly recognizes menstrual products for what they are: necessities for health and hygiene,” Stevenson said. 

Stevenson added that in 2020 women struggled in many ways and their loss of income also meant that they couldn’t always purchase essentials like products for menstruation. Period poverty, she said, reinforces existing inequities for women and this type of tax is one where the consumer bears all of the burden.

Woman standing with a mask

Tihnae Bennett

U-M student Tihnae Bennett, Class of 2022, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Iota Psi Chapter President, National Panhellenic Council Treasurer, and LEAD Scholar through the Alumni Association also talked about the significance of this move.

“This bill is important because feminine hygiene products are essential for basic hygiene. This bill is a step in the right direction and hopefully it will lead to other health essentials becoming more accessible. It is a historic moment for this bill to be signed on campus and is a symbol of solidarity amongst all women,” Bennett said. 

Sen. Brinks, who is a sponsor of the House Bill 5267 and has worked toward this repeal for several years, said that these two bills will move Michigan to a more fair tax structure, which is a goal shared on both sides of the aisle. 

“Eliminating the sales and use tax on these medically necessary products will put millions of dollars back into the pockets of Michigan families. I am proud to stand here today and celebrate finally getting rid of taxes on feminine hygiene products,” Brinks said. 

Students and Central Student Government President Nithya Arun, Class of 2022, and Vice President Carla Voigt, Class of 2022, shared how grateful they were for the bill being signed and for being able to be in attendance for the event on campus. They have dedicated their time in CSG to expanding access to menstrual products across campus. 

“Menstrual products are essential to the daily lives of students who menstruate. So, it is with great pride that we are given the opportunity to witness Governor Whitmer sign HB 5267, which repeals the tax on essential menstrual products, saving those who menstruate almost $5,000 dollars in their lifetime. We have also just begun a new initiative, distributing free menstrual cups to students in order to provide a more sustainable and affordable option. With the already enormous financial burden that education puts on students, it is imperative that we provide more equitable ways to access health care products. We are ecstatic that a policy like this is being implemented and are grateful to all of the leaders that were involved in its passage,” they said.

Graduate student Ember Bradbury, who is pursuing a master’s degree in conservation ecology and environmental justice implemented The Sustainable Period Project at U-M, which provides free reusable menstrual products at University Health Service and Maize and Blue Cupboard. She said that providing everyone fair access to products that keep them safe is incredibly important, and she was proud to be in attendance at the bill signing with Gov. Whitmer.

Ember Bradbury

Ember Bradbury

“Senate Bill 153 was owed to our grandparents and their grandparents. Menstruation should never have been stigmatized or punished. But today marks an important step toward righting that wrong and obtaining reproductive justice. The University of Michigan should be proud to host the signing of this crucial bill,” she said.

U-M Class of 2024 student Eva Hale said that as a young woman herself, this law holds a lot of meaning: “Seeing Governor Whitmer repeal these outdated laws shows me and fellow students that women have more of a say in lawmaking than ever before. I am proud to say that my governor is ending this tax for all women and people with periods.” 

U-M School of Public Health Class of 2020 alumna Ashley Rapp also attended the signing. Following the event, she talked about the impact this will have on women in Michigan. 

“The passage of these bills is impactful for menstruators, their families, and our communities. This tax disproportionately affects low-income women, and in a country where the wage gap already presents a barrier to equality, the elimination of this tax is a meaningful step in the right direction. A persistent team of grassroots leaders, legislators, and young organizers pushed this over the finish line, and I’m feeling really lucky to be a part of it.”