Students in Washington will soon have access to free tampons and menstrual pads.
Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday requiring the state's schools, colleges and universities to provide free menstrual hygiene products to students.
House Bill 1273 says schools must provide the products at no cost in all gender-neutral and female bathrooms by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
"This is holding students back in school, which affects their future. And we needed to do something to fix it.”
Rep. April Berg
The bill also mandates that if a school serving students in grades six through 12 doesn't have a gender-neutral bathroom, the school must make the products available in at least one bathroom accessible to male students or in a school health room, reports NBC affiliate KGW8 in Washington.
The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
It was sponsored by Rep. April Berg, who argued that low-income students who can't afford menstrual products suffer academically.
"Poverty and period poverty go hand-in-glove,” Berg said in a news release. “More than four in five students have missed class time, or know someone who has, because they didn’t have access to period products. This is holding students back in school, which affects their future. And we needed to do something to fix it.”
According to a 2019 study, people who menstruate spend an average of $13.25 each month on menstrual products. That adds up to more than $6300 over a lifetime.
While Washington schools will be required to cover the cost of the products, they are also allowed to seek grants or partner with community-based organizations in order to supply the products.
As the issue of "period poverty" gains more attention, Washington joins a handful of U.S. states — California, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire and Virginia — that have already required its middle and high schools to provide free menstrual products in its bathrooms. In 2020, Scotland became the first country to make pads and tampons free.
Washington's new bill comes just months after its state legislature passed an earlier bill that exempted menstrual products from the state’s sales tax, making it the 18th state in the U.S. to outlaw a "tampon tax."