Some Workers Can Now Use Pre-Tax Dollars to Buy Pads and Tampons

Supermajority Education Fund

April 20, 2020

As part of the recently implemented coronavirus stimulus bill, workers with health savings accounts (HSA) and flexible savings accounts (FSA) can now use their pre-tax dollars to purchase tampons, pads, and other menstrual hygiene products.

Advocates have long been campaigning for this change, in which the IRS’ tax code’s classification of menstrual hygiene products was revised to make them eligible for these funds. HSAs and FSAs can only be used for what the code deems as “qualified medical expenses” like co-pays for medical visits and prescriptions, certain over-the-counter medications and supplements, and breastfeeding supplies. Menstrual care products have not previously qualified because the tax code has treated menstruation as a condition; according to the old IRS rules, pads, tampons, and menstrual cups did not “alleviate or aid in the treatment plan of a specific illness.” 

While several lawmakers have introduced similar measures — including one in Representative Grace Meng’s Menstrual Equity for All Act — until it was included in the stimulus bill, the proposals had never been up for a vote in Congress.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the co-founder of the advocacy group Period Equity, told Supermajority News that the rule change is a major step forward in tackling what is known as “period poverty” not only because workers with HSA or FSA accounts can now utilize those funds instead of their own income, but also because the expense and financial toll of menstruation is now acknowledged in federal law. “This helps us advocate for further-reaching reforms beyond just an IRS tax code switch,” said Weiss-Wolf. “The inclusion [of menstrual care] in the stimulus package as a qualified medical expense gives us a lot of fuel and a lot of grounding to make the case in other advocacy arguments.”

In recent years, several states have eliminated sales tax on menstrual hygiene supplies, with the state of Washington becoming the latest to do so on April 3. A growing number of schools and workplaces are also providing free pads and tampons in restrooms.

Weiss-Wolf says the next step for advocates is to build on those gains by working to increase access to period supplies to even more marginalized communities, “whether it is students, whether it is people who are incarcerated or people who are making use of emergency funds in emergency shelters.”