The Washington, D.C. Council approved the elimination of the 5.75 percent sales tax on diapers, tampons and other feminine hygiene products Nov. 15 by approving the final passage of the Feminine Hygiene and Sales Tax Exemption Amendment Act of 2016.
The council, which has been deliberating the bill since April, will follow the example of Illinois, Connecticut and New York, all of which repealed the “tampon tax” this year. The bill will not go into effect until next October.
Councilmembers Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and then-councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large) co-introduced the bill in April.
According to Silverman’s Senior Policy Advisor Samuel Rosen-Amy, the decision to cut the tax on feminine hygiene products was based on the desire to ease the burden on women and working families.
“The councilmember thought this was an important bill because it’s an issue of fairness,” Rosen-Amy said. “Women shouldn’t be taxed for needing certain hygiene products, so there shouldn’t be an additional tax on them.”
Rosen-Amy said the tax exemption would allow low-income families to moderate these often costly expenses.
“Sales taxes tend to burden lower income families more,” Rosen-Amy said. “So, if you can reduce the tax burden on them, to the councilmember that seems like a no-brainer.”
The bill must first receive funding of an estimated $3 million per year from the District’s $13 billion budget for next year to go into effect. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) will release the 2017 amended budget in March.
“Unfortunately if we don’t find the money, even if we pass it, it still won’t go into effect,” Rosen-Amy said. “It’s a significant amount of money, so it won’t be easy, but it’s potentially doable.”
However, Bonds’ Chief of Staff David Meadows said that funding concerns do not pose a serious problem to the tax exemption.
“The cost of implementation is a minor hurdle,” Meadows wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This is minor when compared to our 13 billion budget.”
The bill has nevertheless encountered opposition from various organizations within the District. Richard Phillips, senior policy analyst at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank that focuses on state and tax policy issues, expressed concerns that the exemption would not be an efficient way to address some of the inherent issues surrounding sales taxes.
“For a long time there has been this misconception that the sales tax is actually a luxury tax,” Phillips said. “You shouldn’t have inequalities in what is and isn’t being subjected to the sales tax.”
Phillips also expressed concerns regarding implications of the tax exemption for other products.
“If one year we exempt diapers, and the next year t-shirts, and shoes, then you have a problem where your sales tax base keeps getting eroded year after year, because you have different groups asking for exemptions,” Phillips said. “Once you exempt all these different things, you create a real problem for the tax code overall.”
Nevertheless, Bonds argued feminine hygiene products and diapers for both babies and incontinent adults are medical necessities that should not force additional costs on families.
“Women, babies, and persons with disabilities who need these products should not be taxed for natural bodily functions,” Bonds said to The Washington Post.