A new bill introduced by California State Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) aims to bring extra funding for California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) participants in need of menstrual products, a necessity that can be too expensive for low-income individuals to purchase.

CalWORKs is a California public assistance program that delivers funding and services to families with children, benefiting unemployed or underemployed low-income residents. Participants consist of predominantly Latinx and Black families, based on a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

On average, menstruating individuals spend $20 on products per cycle, equating to $18,000 in their lifetime, according to a study published in 2021 by the National Organization for Women. If passed, Senate Bill 260 will provide an additional $20 increase for welfare program recipients. 

Menstrual insecurity

According to Menjivar’s office, the bill “aims to alleviate the menstrual product insecurity many Californians face, due to economic constraints and inequitable access, for California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) participants.” 

Many Black and Brown people living in low-income communities deal with what Menjivar calls a “period poverty,” referring to people who struggle to afford menstrual products for themselves or their loved ones.

Menjivar said that she believes that SB 260 will benefit recipient’s health and physical well-being. 

I recognize that we are in a deficit, but I also recognize that if we don’t approach this now, the dollar tag on this situation could be three times more down the line, pushing people further into poverty,” Menjivar said. “There are immense amounts of individuals that will utilize one tampon or one pad for long hours at a time because they know they don’t have a lot. And that causes so many life-threatening diseases.”

Caroline Menjivar

California State Senator Caroline Menjivar, elected in 2022 with the goal of pushing bills that will support low-income, LGBTQ+ and POC communities. Photo Courtesy of Senator Menjivar’s Office.

Youth organizers

Menjivar, who has only served three months as senator, representing the cities of Burbank and San Fernando, worked with two youth organizers: Fiona Lu, policy director of California High School Democrats (CAHSD), and Esther Lau, director of Generation Ratify CA. Lu and Lau knew they wanted to help create a bill on menstrual equity, so they utilized a 2021 house bill from the state of Illinois as inspiration and guidance.

“We knew that in Illinois they had a bill that made menstrual products available through their equivalent of CalWORKs. So we mirrored that here,” Lau said. “We reached out to Senator Menjivar, who wanted to author the bill. This bill recognizes that access to menstrual products is a basic human need, and it should be a human right.”

For many, deciding whether to pay for their rent, food or menstrual products, is a dilemma that requires sacrifice. In a study by the Journal of Global Health Reports, two-thirds of low-income folks in the U.S. could not afford menstrual products in 2022. Individuals unable to afford period products are disproportionately Black and Latinx, as reported by Kotex. 

“It’s one of those things that people have to decide whether to buy pads for themselves or formula for their baby,” said Dr. Cynthia Sanchez, a professor and the Clinical Placement Director of the Department of Nursing at the University of Southern California.

Detrimental period products

Sanchez worked for 13 years in the area of women’s health and knows how detrimental period products are for menstruating folks’ health. “If women didn’t have menstrual products to use, they’d have to use things like toilet paper or paper towels, which do not work,” Sanchez said. “Or the other thing that women might try to do is use tampons longer than they’re supposed to do, which can lead to toxic shock syndrome.” 

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) can occur when bacteria grow on tampons or menstrual cups if not often changed appropriately, a situation that can lead to shock, organ failure and even death if untreated. Treatment can be expensive, and if the infection is serious, the costs can reach thousands of dollars. Supporters say that SB 260 aims to prevent those risks for CalWORKs recipients who struggle to keep up with the growing cost of products that has seen a rise of 9.8% in tampons and 8.3% in menstrual pads in 2022, according to data analytics company NielsenIQ.

Supporters of the bill say that they intend to overcome the menstrual inequity that disproportionately impacts POC communities, believing that SB 260 is a step in the right direction.

“Combating menstrual inequities means making menstrual products affordable and accessible for all menstruating folks – especially young, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color who already face disproportionate rates of period poverty,” said Faith Garcia, the California state organizer at Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. 

No political backlash, yet

Menjivar said that she has not faced any political backlash on the bill, but since the bill will require a budget increase in CalWORKs funding, there will be some opposition as it gets closer to the voting date later this year. 

To become law, SB 260 would need to pass through the Rules Committee before going to the floor for all senators to vote on by September 14. If the bill gets passed, then CalWORKs recipients will see an aid increase in 2025.

Nova Blanco-Rico is about to graduate with a degree in journalism from California State University, Dominguez Hills and is a freelancer for CALÓ NEWS.