State Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, says she wants to end “period poverty” in Missouri’s public and charter schools. She’s proposing to require that the schools with grades 6-12 provide feminine hygiene products in their bathrooms at no charge to students having their menstrual cycles.

State Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, briefs Capitol reporters on February 4, 2019 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Four states have passed similar measures – California, New York, New Hampshire and Illinois. Several others have proposed them.

Stevens, a former social worker, says research shows one in five menstruating teens struggle to afford period products or are not able to buy them at all.

“I think it’s something that is not openly discussed,” Stevens says. “It’s not a topic that is commonly discussed. There’s a stigma around it. Students might feel embarrassed about it that their families aren’t able to afford those things.”

Jessica Adams with the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies says without the products, students can miss up to 36 days of school annually. Stevens says she doesn’t want the students to miss school because they can’t afford tampons and pads.

“Really this also is an issue around helping those students meet those basic needs, but also to make sure that they are able to access the full scope of education and not miss class or school because of that,” says Stevens.

The state’s cost for providing the supplies would be about $1 million. Under her bill, the school districts would not pay for them.

“A lot of families struggle with buying groceries and prescriptions and all these different things and have to make choices,” says Stevens.

Some fiscal conservatives in the Missouri Legislature might not go along with government potentially diving into its piggy bank to pay for these items. However, the Legislature passed a bipartisan bill last year to provide feminine hygiene products in Missouri’s prisons housing women.

Stevens’ legislation is House Bill 1954.

Meanwhile, the Missouri House Children and Families committee is also hearing a proposal today sponsored by Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, that would reduce the sales tax from the current 4.2% to 1.2% for feminine hygiene products and adult and children’s diapers. The measure is House Bill 2065.

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