At one point during the current Missouri legislative session, there was a proposal to exclude state sales tax from groceries. Deemed too detrimental to the state’s future coffers, however, it was scratched. But several bills regarding the removal of sales taxes from other items appear headed to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 131 offers tax relief for gun aficionados in the form of a credit for the sale of firearms and ammunition as well as an exemption of state and local sales tax for the purchase of the same. More varied consumers will benefit from Senate Bill 143, which includes provisions to exclude sales tax on diapers and all feminine hygiene products. But, of the hundreds of bills currently pending, I found no bill recommending the exclusion of sales taxes on adult incontinence products. It’s just another slap in the face of Missouri’s aged and disabled population.
In 2019, then-Senator Jill Schupp introduced a bill that would have removed sales taxes on both diapers and incontinence products. At the time, she quoted figures from the Division of Budget and Planning that estimated that Missourians annually spent between $1,920 to $2,889 on urinary incontinence diapers, $720 to $2,160 on bowel incontinence diapers, and $550 to $840 per year on children’s diapers. This didn’t consider the daily catheters used on the deceptively labeled “non-invasive” products like the PureWick system. Her bill never got out of committee.
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It’s wonderful that people needing diapers and/or feminine products will see a reduction in their bills. Reusable types of these items are scarce, expensive, and often inconvenient to use at work or in school. Additionally, they cannot be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (food stamp) vouchers.
Still, healthy children will outgrow the need for diapers, and women using period products (ordinarily) do not need them all month. Eventually, women even age out of them. But once a person needs incontinence products (whether male or female) it’s usually an expense they’ll have forever.
I have not purchased Depends or other similar brands since my last senior relative died in 2017. But, for many years before that, our household stockpiled them.
None of my folks was bedfast until the last few months of their lives. But, as is common with age, they started to need more time to rise from a chair or the bed. Not surprisingly rushing to get to the bathroom caused several falls, something that could have resulted in far more serious problems than the embarrassment of wet clothes.
Consequently, my folks wore incontinence briefs 24/7. Sometimes only two per day would be necessary. Other times though, staying dry demanded more. Imagine how cost-prohibitive this could be on a fixed income. For example, consider the difficulty for someone whose total monthly income is $914 a month — the maximum for an individual receiving Supplemental Security Income.
There are many brands of such products, but regardless of the brand, their costs vary according to size and the number of items in each package. Using the extra-large size for comparison, I checked our local retailers for their current costs. At $35.60, the Sam’s Club version had the lowest cost for a package of 80 items, while Costco had the same number of items for $50.99.
Most other retailers do not offer packages with these many items, period. Walmart sells a 68-count package for $50.08. Target’s price for the same number is $54.99, while Amazon has a 60-count for $53.33. Neither CVS nor Walgreens sells packages greater than 26-count at an extra-large size. CVS charges $23.99 for their bag, while Walgreens sells a 12-count for $18.99.
Considered monthly, these amounts might seem small. However, if a person receiving only $914 a month needed to purchase these packages weekly, it might become a conundrum of choosing to stay dry or to pay for other basic necessities like shelter, food and medicine.
Having the sales tax removed from these products would have helped innumerable Missourians if our legislators cared enough to offer and approve such a bill. Since they obviously didn’t, I encourage anyone who can afford it to buy several bags of incontinence products and donate them to the food pantries in your area.
Janet Y. Jackson is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member.