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Illinois law aims to help make feminine hygiene products more readily available

The set of laws have a series of caveats that might slow the process.

GALESBURG, Ill. — A set of laws in Illinois are moving the state one step closer to providing better access to menstrual health products. Illinois HB155 was passed back in August of 2021 and went into effect with the turn of the new year. 

Under the law, the Illinois Department of Human Services is required to apply for a waiver from the United States Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service that would allow Illinois residents to use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits to purchase menstrual health products and diapers. 

It's a step in right direction according to Lee Ann Porter. She's the founder and executive director of Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank in Galesburg, Illinois. 

"Its always been a need and I think the pandemic has put a spotlight on it," Porter said.

Lee Ann helps provide roughly 35,000 diapers a month and over 400 period products to those in need from nine surrounding counties. 

"Any movement that helps us get to where people can have access to just basic hygiene products is good," Porter said.

She says the nonprofit has a pretty good stock pile of diapers and overnight liners, but they are always in need of pads and tampons. 

"We are always needing tampons. They are our lowest amount," Porter said. "Tampons and regular pads are always in high demands for us so those go out about as quickly as they come in." 

The state still has to be granted the waiver from the federal government in order to allow people in Illinois to use the SNAP and WIC benefits on the health items. 

"Your period supplies, your diapers, your toilet paper, a lot of people think that they're covered. They think that they're available with food stamps, they think that they are available with WIC or other things," Porter said. "There's a lot of just not knowing for the general public, that these aren't covered." 

In addition to HB155, another law went into effect with the new year. HB310 created the Feminine Hygiene Products for the Homeless Act. That bill was also passed in August of 2021 and requires all homeless shelters in Illinois to provide tampons, pads, and panty liners free of charge. The caveat with that bill being that it is if the shelters budget allows. 

Porter says she is willing and waiting to see if more shelters reach out to Loving Bottoms to help fill their bathrooms with supplies for the women. 

"Will they be reaching out to places like us if their budget doesn't allow to work with other agencies to make sure that they have them available?" Porter said. "What does that look like for them because so many nonprofits are already stretched really thin." 

The third bill passed in August of 2021 went into immediate effect. That law requires all public universities and community college to provide tampons, pads, and panty liners for free in bathrooms. 

Porter worries about these laws being regulated. She has no plans of going anywhere until the need for access to feminine hygiene products and diapers is completely eradicated. 

"The whole goal is that everybody has access. And I get to retire from the nonprofit world and that would be that would be perfect," Porter said.

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