Nova Scotia

Funding proposed to cover tampons, pads for those on income assistance

A small group of women is pushing to get tampons, pads and other products funded for those receiving income assistance. 

Private member's bill introduced last week aims to increase funding for period products

Jodi Brown is one of a group of women who are pushing to amend income assistance rules to include special funding for period products. (Shaina Luck)

Jodi Brown likes to keep a good stockpile of tampons and pads in her closet now, but she wasn't always so fortunate. 

In 2015 she was on income assistance, trying to stretch roughly $255 to cover food, clothing and some of her rent. 

"That's for your food, your electricity, that's everything," the Halifax woman said. "So when it came to tampons and pads, there was no money for that."

Back then, she sometimes got help from her parents but was too embarrassed to bring up a need for menstrual products. 

"I didn't tell anybody but at the beginning of my cycle and the end of my cycle I would use toilet paper to save on the tampons and the pads, because I was nervous that I wouldn't have enough," she said.

Food banks are sometimes able to give out pads and tampons but they do not always have a good supply. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Recently, Brown has become part of a small group of women pushing to get tampons, pads and other products funded for recipients of income assistance.

They caught the ear of PC MLA Karla MacFarlane, who introduced a private member's bill that would amend the Income Assistance Act last Thursday. 

"This bill I'm really excited about because it's an opportunity to end period poverty here in Nova Scotia," MacFarlane said. 

The current housing allowance for one person renting their home is $300 per month. Some people also receive a personal allowance of $275 per month for needs such as groceries and utilities. 

At the discretion of caseworkers, people can also receive money for "special needs" such as a particular diet or medical supplies. 

MacFarlane's bill would add period products like pads, tampons, and reusable cups to the definition of a special need, and set aside money to pay for those products for people who need them.

Karla MacFarlane introduced a private member's bill Thursday to increase funding for tampons and pads. (CBC)

The bill does not specify a set amount of money. Since menstrual cycles differ in length, and some women bleed more than others, Brown suggested that up to $25 a month would be enough to cover most people's needs. 

"I've spoken to women who steal toilet paper," said Brown. At times when she was on income assistance, she said she took rolls of toilet paper from public washrooms.

She said food banks sometimes are able to give out pads and tampons but the food banks do not always have a good supply of those products. 

"A lot of women use rags, and a lot of people are actually stealing," she said. "I was surprised at the amount of women that are stealing. They're out of options." 

Minister of Community Services Kelly Regan did not rule out throwing her support behind the bill. 

"It's one of a number of possibilities that we would look at to address period poverty," she said Tuesday. 

Regan pointed to some measures such as an announcement last year that people in shelters and transition houses would receive a $101 allowance for personal hygiene items. 

The bill has passed first reading and must still pass second and third reading in order to become law.