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New Laws Aim To Prevent "Period Poverty"

Richard Yeh/WNYC

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Thursday that will expand access to feminine hygiene products for impoverished and homeless women and college students.

Pritzker said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted women being disproportionately forced to make sacrifices because of monetary trouble.

“Keep a job or stay home to care for children, pay the rent or buy groceries, pay a medical bill or keep the lights on,’’ he said. “Given the high price of menstrual products such as pads and tampons, it's no wonder that many women below the poverty line have had to sacrifice their personal health and hygiene in order to afford food or other basic necessities turning to socks and toilet paper to manage their menstrual cycle.”

He called the situation tragic.

One of the laws immediately requires Illinois’ public community colleges and universities to put free sanitary supplies in restrooms on campus. State Rep. Katie Stuart (D- Edwardsville) sponsored the bill.

“This legislation is important because it really recognizes a simple fact of biology. About half our population experiences menstruation throughout a significant portion of their lifetimes. It's a normal function of our biology, and should be treated and seen as such and respected,” she said.

Other measures signed into law will require homelessness programs to offer feminine hygiene products – if they have the means — and order the governor’s administration to seek a waiver to allow federal nutrition programs to cover the cost of sanitary products and diapers. The state Department of Human Services will have to seek a waiver to allow federal nutritional programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, such as SNAP and the supplemental food assistance for women and children, to pay for feminine hygiene products and diapers.

Currently, the federal rules for the nutritional programs don’t cover the purchase of feminine hygiene supplies or diapers.

“The… pieces of legislation signed today by Governor Pritzker are about human dignity. Meeting the hygiene needs of women and girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity and public health,” said state Rep. LaToya Greenwood, (D-East St. Louis.)

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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