The two-hour drive from St. Louis to Jefferson City is becoming very familiar for Muriel Smith.
Smith, the Executive Director of the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, and her colleagues at other diaper banks around the state have been making regular trips in recent years to the state capital to convince lawmakers to make it easier for Missouri families to afford diapers and period supplies.
In recent years, numerous bills that either reduce or fully exempt sales tax on diapers and period products have failed to get passed into law. Smith and others are hopeful this year, though, that one of two bills will finally get through. Senate Bill 143 and House Bill 351 are both slowly working their way through the long legislative process. Either bill (in their current form) would make diapers and period supplies fully exempt from sales tax.
Diapers are currently taxed as luxury goods. In addition to local taxes, there’s an additional 4.25% state sales tax tacked on to diaper purchases.
“It doesn't sound like a lot, but like if you're already struggling to buy things, and then you have to pay an additional amount just because you need these things, that’s an issue,” Smith said.
SB 143 and HB 351, as they are currently written, would exempt diapers and period supplies from both local and state taxes.
Smith has found that many state legislators don’t know much about what diaper banks do. Many lawmakers thought that churches were the main suppliers of diapers but didn’t realize that many rural churches get their diapers from diaper banks. After hearing this last year, she and her colleagues around the state made it a priority to educate lawmakers on how diaper banks work and how families access diapers and period supplies.
“I think that worked,” Smith said, “because this time when we went down, everybody was familiar with a diaper bank. Nobody said, ‘Oh, I've never heard,’ or, ‘I didn't know that existed,’ or anything. Everybody seemed to be familiar with the issue of diapers and period supplies being taxed at a higher rate than other items. So, I think this year is better. We need to make sure we keep pushing.”
SB 143, which mainly deals with tax credits for grocery stores, made it through the General Laws Committee, while the Children and Families Committee is still considering HB 351. People can write to their legislators or directly contact the Children and Families Committee here. Go here for more information on how nonprofits can successfully lobby.
The St. Louis Area Diaper Bank has distributed millions of diapers in the past nine years, and has ramped up its operations considerably due to more families struggling financially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith is hopeful that one of these bills will go through and make life a little easier for the people the Diaper Bank serves, and she knows it won’t happen overnight.
“It's still just a long process,” Smith said. “You get over one hurdle and you celebrate that, but then you're like, there's like 10 other things. Anything could happen along the way.”