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A bill pending in the Senate would eliminate Mississippi’s sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, contraceptive products, baby formula and diapers — taxes that advocates say disproportionately affect the state’s low-income women and women of color.
The sales tax on menstrual products, often referred to as the “pink tax,” has been eliminated in 20 states. Mississippi is not only one of the 30 states that do tax these necessities, it does so at the highest rate in the nation. Mississippi’s 7% sales tax rate is only matched in Tennessee and Indiana, two states that also tax these products.
An individual might not feel the full impact of this tax each time they buy these products, but it adds up to a significant tax burden over time. Advocates estimate eliminating the pink tax would deliver millions of dollars in tax relief to the state’s 1.5 million women each year.
“I think everyone can agree, no matter what side of the aisle that you’re on, that putting money in people’s pockets is a good thing,” said Vidhi Bamzai, a fellow in the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi’s Women’s Policy Institute program.
Bamzai and her fellowship cohort have focused their attention this year on advocating for this bill. Forced to go fully virtual because of the pandemic, they’ve relied on lobbying individual legislators and social media outreach to drum up support.
Advocates for repealing the pink tax point to an unfairness they see in the state’s tax system, where luxury items like drinks from vending machines are not subject to sales tax, but medical products that are necessities for people who menstruate are taxed.
“We’re thinking really deeply about issues that specifically impact women and children in Mississippi… and this has a direct impact on women every single day,” Bamzai said.
Bamzai also stressed the relief delivered by this bill wouldn’t just benefit women. The taxes on diapers and baby formula takes money from family budgets, so many men and children feel that burden.
“This bill really is beneficial to all Mississippians, even though it seems like, with the tampon element of it, that it primarily impacts women,” Bamzai said.
This is not the first time that these tax cuts have been proposed in the Legislature. In 2016, Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, had these cuts amended into a bill concerning tax exemptions for certain medical equipment and supplies. That bill passed both the Senate and the House, but it later died on calendar after leaders chose not to bring it up for floor votes.
“This is an unfair tax on women,” Frazier said. “Men don’t share the same burden… it puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to how they spend their money on things they really need.”
Frazier thinks this year’s bill has a better shot at becoming law this session because more women are in the Legislature than in 2016 who can “be strong advocates for this position.” He also thinks there is a hunger to give taxpayers relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is coupled with more widespread awareness on the inequity of these taxes in general.
“It takes time to educate a male-dominated body on certain issues,” Frazier said.
Though Mississippi women are still vastly underrepresented at the Capitol, the Legislature is slightly less male-dominated than it was in 2016. Women now hold 17 of the 122 House seats, three more than in 2016. Women also hold 11 of the 52 Senate seats, two more than in 2016. Overall, female representation in the Legislature has grown from 13.2% to 16.1% since 2016. The Legislature continues to be much whiter and maler than the state of Mississippi.
Female lawmakers introduced bills to repeal these taxes in Louisiana and Georgia in 2019. Both measures ultimately failed but resulted in separate actions that advocates criticized as doing too little. Georgia’s Legislature placed a one-time allocation of $1.5 million in the state’s 2020 budget to equip schools and community centers in low-income areas with menstrual products. In June of 2020, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill giving local governments the power to exempt menstrual products and diapers from all or part of sales taxes.
As other states also grapple with repealing taxes on these essential products, Bamzai thinks this is an opportunity for Mississippi to lead on this issue in the South. The bill must pass out of the full Senate by Feb. 24 to continue in the legislative process.
“I think it’s a great chance for Mississippi to be first in something really good,” Bamzai said.