AUSTIN (KXAN) — Free menstrual products will now be available at city-owned facilities, following a vote by Austin City Council Thursday. The agenda item was approved on consent, meaning no discussion was held by council prior to the vote.
Following council direction, free menstrual products will be available at the following city-owned facilities:
- City-owned showers, bathrooms accessible to people experiencing homelessness
- Austin Public Health facilities, which include neighborhood centers and sexual health clinics
- All Austin Public Library buildings
- All City-owned community recreation centers, summer camps
The funding for free menstrual products will be prioritized in the City of Austin’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget, per city documents. An amendment added Thursday also calls for a range of pad and tampon sizes to be offered, as possible.
Historically, APH conducted a 2019 pilot project to “distribute menstrual supplies to Austin residents” through resources at neighborhood and health centers, along with city facilities. That pilot operated off nearly $33,000 in funding.
Menstrual equity and free access to period products has been a rising issue both in Texas and nationally, particularly in the realm of calls for sales tax exemptions. The Texas Comptroller’s Office offers exemptions for certain medical products such as drugs and medicines, wound dressings and dietary supplements. Tampons, pads, liners and cups are not eligible for exemptions under the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
Nationally, 24 states have removed sales taxes from menstrual products, including tampons, pads, liners and cups.
This latest agenda item follows national trends to provide free menstrual products in city-owned facilities. Cities such as Brookline, Massachusetts, Akron, Ohio and Los Angeles have all implemented similar measures.
Andrea Elizondo, co-founder of the Texas Menstrual Equity Coalition, said Thursday's vote was a step in the right direction for period product access here in Texas. Elizondo noted that for the costs of menstrual products can have adverse impacts on lower-income residents, students or those otherwise unable to access these resources.
"Providing free menstrual products at city-owned buildings specifically that are public facing like libraries, neighborhood centers, community centers, recreational centers -- you are providing some relief," Elizondo said.
The Texas Menstrual Equity Coalition was involved in Rep. Donna Howard's 2019 Texas Legislature attempt to remove sales taxes from menstrual products. Elizondo said the coalition will work to bring the issue before the Legislature in the 88th Legislature, scheduled to begin in January 2023.
"I know eliminating sales tax is not going to solve every issue in regards to menstrual inequities," Elizondo said. "But it's some small relief, especially in times like now of inflation and the ongoing pandemic."