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August 24, 2023

New Jersey schools to provide free menstrual products to students

Many teens miss class time because they lack access to tampons and pads, research shows. This fall, bathrooms will stock them

New Jersey public schools will offer free menstrual products to students in grades 6-12 when classes start this fall.

A new law requires schools to include tampons and sanitary napkins in at least half of their female and gender-neutral bathrooms.

A 2021 survey found that 1 in 5 teenagers struggled to afford period products, and more than 4 in 5 teens either missed class time due to lack of access or knew someone who had. Menstrual products can be expensive and are not covered by government benefit programs. 

Period poverty – inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products – is a public health crisis that receives little attention, according to experts at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Many students rely on menstrual products from their schools' nurses. 

"When students can't access the menstrual products they need for their reproductive health, the potential stress and stigma too often distracts them from their classes or forces them to skip school entirely," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said.

New Jersey has joined at least 10 other states, including Delaware, that have established or expanded requirements for free menstrual products in schools since 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Pennsylvania is not among them, but in June the state House passed a bill that would provide funding for eligible schools to supply period products. Another bill, which has not gained traction, would requires schools to stock free period products in all bathrooms serving students in grades 6-12. 

The cost of supplying menstrual products to New Jersey schools will be covered by the state. The new requirement is expected to cost $1.8 million to $3.5 million this school year, and another $1.4 million to $2.9 million each subsequent year, according to estimates from the Office of Legislative Services.

Using data from the 2020-21 school year, New Jersey officials estimate that 1,383 schools and 354,497 students will be impacted by the new law.

New Jersey's Democrat-led legislature passed the legislation in June with near unanimity. It received only one "no" vote.

"Menstrual hygiene products are a necessity, not a luxury," Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz said. "When this becomes an obstacle and decisions are made to not attend school, the loss is greater than just the one day."

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