Pennsylvania could provide period products to girls in school

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania could provide free menstrual products to public school students as part of the fresh proposal which aims to reduce the number of girls who have to miss school due to their period.

Nationwide estimates show that one in four women or girls missed school, work or job interviews because they could not afford appropriate menstrual products. In some cases, people will operate unhealthy alternatives – such as socks, paper towels or T-shirts – that may cause health problems.

The proposal, which passed the Democratic-led state House this week with bipartisan support, would create a scholarship program for public schools and allocate $3 million to provide schools with menstrual products. It is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled state Senate, but it could pass as part of budget negotiations.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Darisha Parker (D., Philadelphia). This is the second menstrual products bill she has championed this legislative session; a bill to allow a state to apply for a federal waiver so that low-income people can operate SNAP or WIC to purchase diapers or menstrual products passed the House last year.

Parker wants to raise awareness of the issue, also known as period poverty, at the state Capitol building. Almost every day has a different period-related name – Period Monday, Tampon Tuesday, to name a few – and she carries around a box of tampons (which, she adds, cost her $12 per box).

Parker said her persistence helped get her bill passed by both parties, which required educating a male-dominated chamber, many of whom were completely unaware of the issue before her effort.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, has also committed himself to the fight to ensure more equitable treatment of period products. In his state budget proposal, he asked the Department of Education for $3 million to distribute free period products to all public schools.

“It brought tears to my eyes when Governor Shapiro said it once or twice in February: ‘period.’ And putting aside $3 million,” Parker said, adding that she has since become close to first lady Lori Shapiro, who has spoken publicly on the issue.

But even as understanding of the problem grows in Harrisburg, funding proposals are unlikely to advance through the Republican-led state Senate. Earlier this year, Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) called Shapiro’s proposal “a much more liberal budget, even to the point of putting sanitary napkins in schools.”

State Sen. Michelle Brooks (R., Crawford) chairs the Senate Health Committee. She has not considered legislation that would allow people to operate SNAP or WIC for menstrual products or diapers within a year of being assigned to her committee, and Parker’s latest bill will likely be referred to her committee as well. A spokesman for Brooks said the senator does not comment on potential legislation and declined to comment.

Lynette Medley, who founded No More Secrets in 2012 to provide women with menstrual products and has since created the nation’s first menstrual hygiene center in Germantown, said period poverty affects marginalized communities more than research suggests .

“When you look at people living in poverty, people who are food insecure, 50% of that population lives in periodic poverty,” Medley said. “We don’t talk about periods. How can I talk about uncomfortable things when you don’t even talk about it with your friends. How can I tell if my menstrual hygiene is deficient?”

Although the bill passed with bipartisan support by a 117-85 majority, some Republican women continued to oppose its passage.

On the House floor before Tuesday’s vote, state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz said the bill was “another step by the governor and Democrats to have the government provide everything for you, which leads to communism.”

Medley said the reasons why a person might experience period poverty vary greatly, including bleeding disorders or long menstrual cycles. She added that there is a misunderstanding among people who come “from a perspective of privilege.”

“In most of our school districts, this doesn’t exist,” Medley added. “Have you ever been to school in Philadelphia? They barely have enough money for basic things.

Parker, however, said she would refer to former first lady Michelle Obama’s playbook: “When they go low, we go high.”

“I’m going to keep going,” Parker added. “I won’t give her the energy for any of her antics. There’s no reason for me to do this.

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