Menstrual Care Products Aren’t Covered by SNAP Benefits
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These essentials should not threaten the economic well-being of Solo Mom families
Remember those times when your period snuck up on you? How you were caught unaware by an early arrival? If you were lucky, you had pads or tampons in your purse, or you were able to run home and change. Now remove the purse, the stock of tampons and pads under the sink, and the home from the equation.
Solo Moms who are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads, struggling to put food on the table, struggling to make ends meet are also struggling to afford menstrual-care products. The services they turn to for help with food, such as WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), don’t cover feminine-care products.
Who are these Solo Moms?
According to the US Census Bureau’s recent data:
- 82.2% of solo parents are Solo Moms
- 30.4% of Solo Moms have lived in poverty
- 41.3% of Solo Moms received some form of government assistance in 2009
- 32.3% of Solo Moms received SNAP benefits
These Solo Moms are in your neighborhood, the parents of your children’s friends, and your coworkers. And although they may look like they have it all together, we all know there are underlying struggles. Among those struggles, however, why does access to necessary feminine-care products have to be one of them?
According to an article in the Huffington Post, the average woman menstruates from ages 13 to 51. With a cycle lasting three to seven days, that comes to 456 periods, or about 6.25 years. The article goes on to break down the costs of menstrual-related products—Midol for pain relief, chocolate and sugary food (due to PMS cravings), panty liners, tampons, birth control, new underwear due to stains, acne medication (due to breakouts), and heating pads—arriving at an average lifetime total cost of $18,171. The lifetime cost cited for just tampons and panty liners (the minimum basics!) is $2,216, which breaks down to approximately $10 per month. That doesn’t seem like too much, does it? Unless you don’t have access to hot water to wash your clothes. Or you don’t have anywhere to store the extra tampons you didn’t use that month. Or you have only $5 left in your budget for the month.
When did menstrual-care products become optional? Why aren’t they available to everyone?
Who is doing something about it?
Luckily, there are organizations out there that are looking out for Solo Moms and other women and girls who have these concerns. Companies that sell pricier menstrual-care products, such as Lola and the THINX Foundation, are working to give back to the community.
Although Solo Moms on a budget aren’t going purchase a $10 box of 18 tampons through Lola’s monthly subscription service, other women are. Lola, whose products feature organic tampons and pads, donates “menstrual-care products to low-income women and girls across the US.” The company boasts that 100,000 tampons have been dispersed in the last two and a half years to more than 100 shelters in 27 states.
THINX offers products that scream luxury, but again, it is a company that is aware of and working toward solving this problem, with its “buy one, fund one” program. THINX provides funding to its Global Girls Club, where the aim is to provide girls with reusable menstrual products and educate them on their bodies.
But are reusable products the solution?
For some, yes. For those on a strict budget, with access to hot water, reusable products such as a menstrual cup, cloth pads, or specially designed underwear will help and cut down on costs. But for those who don’t have the means to sterilize those reusable products and keep them clean (or who don’t have anywhere to store them), these products are not as helpful as you may think.
So what should be done?
New York City has taken the right approach. In July 2016, the city council voted unanimously and Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation to put free menstrual products in all the city’s public schools, shelters, and jails. New York City is the first place where such a program has been initiated, and the law is specifically aimed at helping those who cannot always afford feminine-care products. Solo Moms in New York City are finally getting a little bit of help in this area.
How can you help?
If you’re reading this and not currently struggling to pay for menstrual-care products, then I challenge you to support those who are. Make a donation to one of the organizations mentioned in this article. Buy an extra box of tampons, and bring it to your local food bank. Share research, share resources, share that this is a problem—and be part of the solution.
I want to be very open and honest about this: I wasn’t working to solve this problem because I wasn’t aware of it. My privilege blinded me to this issue. I’ve never wanted for anything, I’ve never worried where my next meal was coming from or if my children were going to go hungry. But now that I’m aware, I’m dedicating myself to making sure everyone knows.
Did you know that our Resource section lists more than 5,000 nonprofits that help Solo Moms?
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military-family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY magazine and a regular contributor to several online publications, including the Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, and ESME. She also has been published in Ms. magazine and the Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com and on Twitter and Instagram.