People of low-income backgrounds experience hardship when it comes to food, shelter, and other basic necessities. But there’s one area that plagues specifically low-income women that might not be obvious to the passive observer: tampons.
In a recent study by Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, a survey of 183 low-income women in St. Louis revealed that 2/3rds of these women had difficulty affording or accessing menstrual products in 2018. About 21% of them had this problem every month. Lacking the necessities to properly care for feminine hygiene issues causes these women to miss school or work, which can agitate their already lamentable financial situations.
Organizations in St. Louis, as well as throughout the U.S. attempt to combat this problem. Secret Challenge, one such organization in Jefferson and Franklin counties, was founded by Donna Kaucic in 2017. Through her work at Jefferson Franklin Community Action Corporation, Kaucic realized that people came in to ask for help in a variety of areas – but no one was ever asking for menstrual products.
“There’s homeless people out there, women that are just letting it go, making [pads] out of all kinds of things,” said Kaucic. “You can’t buy them on food stamps. You usually can’t get them at a food pantry…So I just started it, and I just had to keep going because I couldn’t stand it.”
Kaucic’s organization collects feminine hygiene products and donates them to local shelters and food pantries, where there is often a great need. Though Secret Challenge is new, and getting it off its feet has been somewhat of a struggle with Kaucic currently in school, she said she’s gotten great support in the endeavor. She also believes there are further steps that need to be taken beyond donations and has reached out to Congressmen, many of whom, she said, have dismissed her call for pads and tampons to be included on the list of items that can be purchased with food stamps.
As for why this issue seems to have been neglected for so long, Kaucic believes it’s all about shame.
“It’s a part of bullying, it’s a part of embarrassment, it’s a part of suicide,” she said. “It’s a very embarrassing thing, so nobody talks about it. It’s a very taboo subject, so when I walk up to people and start talking about it, they are very put-off by it if they don’t get my angle. And I’m like, no, I’m not trying to be gross, I’m trying to tell you there’s a need for this. There’s a need.”
On the national level, outrage at the “tampon tax” has been brewing for years. While in many states, items such as chapstick are not taxed or taxed at a reduced rate due to their healthcare uses, tampons and pads have never fallen under that category. Currently, a bill in the Missouri House has been introduced to lessen the tax on feminine hygiene products and diapers, but it remains to be seen whether lessening the tax on these products will affect the low-income women in Kuhlmann’s study – or whether the bill will pass at all.