- While I’m trying to get Michigan to eliminate the tax on menstrual hygiene products, it’s my Indian film connections that underscored the importance of menstrual products and the issue of period poverty.
As a State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District, knocking doors is my favorite way to connect with constituents — the summer months, where we make relatively fewer trips to Lansing allow me to hear what issues are important to my neighbors, and if the policies I am working on are relevant. I also get to catch up with constituents, neighbors, friends and hear their stories, while sharing my own experiences as a legislator.
In my second term, I am still relatively new at navigating policy and politics. It’s really been rewarding to note that several of the bills I have introduced are popular with people in my district across the political spectrum. Legislation that eliminates taxes on menstrual hygiene products particularly establishes common ground for Republicans and Democrats, men and women. HB 4270 and 4271 would exempt tampons from use and sales tax, and it is one of the bill packages I championed this term.
People before me have tried to eliminate these “luxury” taxes — I never felt that periods were a luxury, and many people I know would agree. Last term, my seatmate Rep. Brian Elder, who recognized the impact it has on the women in his life and those who face #PeriodPoverty, introduced the legislation on the House side with a Democratic colleague. (I learned about Brian’s commitment to helping those in need when we swapped our favorite bible verses — his is James 5:1; mine are Mark 12:29-31). When Brian left, his tampon tax repeal bill was orphaned at the end of my first term, and I worked with my colleague Rep. Tenisha Yancey to reintroduce this legislation in February.
As a member of the minority party, with 52 Democrats in our 110-member chamber, Democrats like me are dependent on our Republican colleagues to advance any bill. This is the power of the gavel — that we cannot set the agenda or even move a bill through the legislative process without Republican support. While our Democratic Governor has included the annual loss of $10 million in revenue from these taxes in her budget, it is through careful negotiation between the executive branch and the Republican legislative leadership that this policy, like anything else in divided government, will go from being just a bill to become a law that will help millions of Michigan menstruators.
While I did this to help those in Michigan, it’s my Indian film connections that underscored the importance of menstrual products and the issue of period poverty. Whether it’s here at home or on the other side of the globe, it’s frustrating to hear the stories: young girls who sometimes miss school when they get their period and don’t have access to menstrual products, or young women who use rags because they can’t afford pads. A few years ago, my husband made sure I took some time to watch the Bollywood movie “Pad Man.”
I was reluctant — there are real problems to solve, and escapist cinema is just that — and popular Indian movies are usually filled with heroes and heroines dancing in scenarios far removed from reality. However, this inspirational story with a happy ending is based on the true story of a young man who is determined to help his new wife. The story is focused on his persistent and entrepreneurial efforts to create an affordable pad. Whether someone lives in an urban community in the United States or a village in a developing nation, we don’t want to go back to rags, and instead want to ensure that these necessary hygiene products are accessible to all who need them. While sticklers will say that there is no male analogy, and others will say that we shouldn’t tax tampons when we don’t tax Viagra, managing periods is not a choice — and penalizing those who barely make ends meet to pay a luxury tax seems outrageous.
Medically necessary items like prescriptions are exempt from sales and use taxes, but items including tampons are taxed. It is an outdated and discriminatory practice, especially considering that Michigan is one of 10 states that doesn’t tax candy and soda. It seems ridiculous that we are asking women and girls — who already struggle to achieve pay equity, economic security and a host of other things — to pay a six percent penalty to buy things essential to their health. Fortunately, the tampon tax has already been axed in a handful of states, and proposals to do away with it have cropped up several more. If we passed this legislation, Michigan would join a national effort to end period poverty and end a legal battle that’s been costly to the state. Maybe there’s a Bollywood story in that — it’s all about relatable stories, after all.
Padma Kuppa is Democratic State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District and has been just re-elected for a second term. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or Kuppa.housedems.com.