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Coronavirus Hampers Access to Menstrual Products for Low-Income People and Shelters

Low-income individuals and social service organizations are struggling to find menstrual products amid the coronavirus outbreak. Along with other essentials like toilet paper, menstrual products have become difficult to find in stores or online due to consumers stocking up at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panic shopping in March left many grocery stores, pharmacies, and major retailers like Amazon and Walmart out of stock of the most popular brands of pads and tampons, with restocking set for early April. Those who could afford to stockpiled menstrual products, leaving those who could not buy ahead in bulk struggling to find needed supplies. Price gouging has also become a problem, potentially forcing people to decide between buying food or menstrual products.

Homeless and domestic violence shelters are finding their usual bulk orders delayed, putting those who rely on those services for menstrual products in a precarious position. When shelters cannot provide these essentials, people often turn to risky alternatives like fabric scraps from T-shirts or mattresses.

The federal coronavirus spending package attempts to provide some relief by allowing those with health savings accounts, Archer medical savings accounts, health care flexible spending accounts or health reimbursement arrangements to use that money to buy menstrual products. However, this measure does not help the most needy or address supply shortages.

Nonprofits like I Support the Girls (ISTG), an organization that provides donated menstrual products and bras to prisons, shelters, and social service organizations, have stepped in to meet the increased demand for menstrual products. ISTG has received hundreds of requests from individuals and organizations for help and donated 900,000 products to cities around the country this March, a massive increase from the 200,000 products it donated in March 2019.

Over 2,000 of those products went to Trenton, New Jersey for distribution to homeless individuals. “Normally a municipality or small city thinks of food drives or clothing drives, but the menstrual hygiene products are too often neglected,” said Reed Gusciora, the mayor of Trenton. “These products are a right, not a privilege.”

Sources: The New York Times 4/5/20; Business Insider 3/20/20; CNN 3/26/20

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