Santa Clara County to provide free period products for most vulnerable communities

FILE - Packages of Tampax brand tampons on a drugstore shelf.

Santa Clara County is partnering with community groups to distribute $1 million worth of feminine hygiene products through June 2021 to those who have lost access since the pandemic's start.

The county is footing the bill through its contingency fund and local organizations like FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and Valley Homeless HealthCare Program, and community health clinics will head the distribution.

"This pandemic continues to demonstrate what we know about inequity," Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. "It's an opportunity for us to right wrongs and do it long term."

The $1 million may seem like a hefty investment, but it would only provide a yearly supply to nearly half of the people who need them, according to a county counsel report.

The county identified more than 63,000 people who are experiencing "period poverty," a term for people who cannot afford period products and other necessities.

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To provide a year's worth of supply for the 63,000 which would cost about $2.2 million - and there are likely many more people who have not been accounted for.

"Periods don't stop during a pandemic, which is why we want the county to make this investment right away," Chavez said. "There shouldn't be any shame or stigma attached to menstruating or period products. It's a natural bodily function."

Chavez, who introduced the period distribution program, said job loss was a major reason for the exacerbated gap, especially because women were disproportionately impacted.

In the last 10 months, women made up 54 percent of COVID-19 related job loss, despite representing 46 percent of the workforce, according to a study by McKinsey & Company.

First 5, a county partner organization, said it needed an additional 7,000 products a month (about $54,000 a year) to support the additional 333 women who requested products during the pandemic.

Community health clinics also saw an uptick in period poverty, reporting that 33,026 patients were in need of menstruation products.

"Even Planned Parenthood testified they have seen an increase right now and my belief for that increase is the economy but also the lack of access at schools," Chavez said.

Since then-Gov. Jerry Brown's 2017 bill requiring all Title I schools to provide free menstrual products, campuses have been integral spaces to help address period poverty.

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But with schools closed, the county's Office of Education found at least 29,000 students have limited access to or do not have period products.

"Young girls are often forced to go without needed products due to the overwhelming impacts of food insecurity, housing insecurity and lack of access in the community they live in," said Shammy Karim, who works for the Office of Education. "Lack of access to period products can lead to isolation, infection and missed days of school [or work]."

Siya Sharma, founder of the county's PERIOD chapter which supports menstruating individuals, said lack of access to period products also has negative and serious impacts on health.

"Women have to turn to socks and rags, which are very unhygienic and can lead to health care disasters," Sharma said. "This is happening to young mothers, frontline workers, homeless people and foster youth."

The county, community-based organizations and the Office of Education will also work together to provide a comprehensive analysis on how to close the inequities to accessing period products, especially for vulnerable communities like youth in juvenile facilities, unhoused youth and low-income youth.

The period product fund is one of two major programs the county approved to address women who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The other program is a $400,000 fund to uplift young mothers who are struggling to provide for themselves and their children.