Heard on the Hill

House members want official office supply store to stock tampons

Three House lawmakers seeking clear guidance on using office funds for feminine hygiene products

 Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is among the members who want clarity on using official funds for feminine hygiene purchases. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Three House lawmakers are asking the new leadership of the House Administration panel to clarify if tampons and other feminine hygiene products can be purchased with official office allowances.

It’s the latest development in a saga that started last summer when Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat, was denied permission to buy tampons for his office using his Members’ Representational Allowance.

“The whole ordeal was ridiculous — the old committee chair told us we couldn’t use the MRA for tampons, then walked it back. But to this day, I don’t know what the official policy is — we just need some clarification, and Chairperson Lofgren is the best person to provide it,” Maloney said in a statement on Monday. “Like I said repeatedly last year, saying tampons are superfluous but other hygiene products like hand sanitizer and tissues are totally necessary reinforces the idea that our rules are written by men, for men, and that women are merely second-class citizens on Capitol Hill.”  

Now, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California is chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, and Maloney has joined Reps. Grace Meng of New York and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida to ask for more clarity.

“Under current leadership, the committee initially provided unclear guidance on the purchase of menstrual products leading to confusion over what the MRA covers and what it does not. For thousands of House employees, menstrual products are a necessity, not an optional luxury,” the members wrote in a letter to both Lofgren and ranking Republican Rodney Davis of Illinois.

Maloney, Meng and Wasserman Schultz also want the House’s office supply store to stock the hygiene products.

“Currently, members and staff may purchase MRA-approved products in the store. These include items ranging from a stain removal pen to rubber gloves,” they wrote. “Menstrual products, which are only available in limited locations across the Capitol, should be included among this collection of items.”

The annual office allowances fund a variety of official purposes, including salaries and office supplies, as well as official travel. But the limits imposed by House Administration have sometimes seemed to be subjective.

Lofgren has previously co-sponsored bills related to menstrual product accessibility and regulation. In 2017, she joined Meng’s Menstrual Equity For All Act, which would have established a tax credit, a tax exclusion and requirements that apply to the purchase or distribution of menstrual hygiene products.

It also would have amended the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to require the Department of Labor to issue a rule requiring private employers, with not less than 100 employees, to provide free menstrual hygiene products for their employees.

Lofgren co-sponsored another measure proposed by Meng that would have required menstrual products to include a list of ingredients on the label.

“It is past time to address outdated policies that were written without consideration of women inside the chambers of Congress,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “For years, I have advocated for the House of Representatives to facilitate consistent and easier access to necessary menstrual products. This is a basic, but critical health concern for most women, and failing to provide access to these products reflects a disregard for the needs of women and the leadership they bring to the Capitol.”

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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