02/11/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/11/2019 12:16
Letter Also Asks House Admin to Make Such Products Available in House Office Supply Store
WASHINGTON - Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Grace Meng (NY-6), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) have asked House Administration Committee Chairperson Zoe Lofgren to issue guidance on the House's policy regarding the use of official funds to purchase feminine hygiene products in a letter. The letter also asks the committee to make these products available in the House Office Supple Store, which already offers stain removal pens and rubber gloves. In June, Rep. Maloney used his Members' Representational Allowance (MRA) to purchase a box of tampons, but was told by the House Finance Office that the purchase was not allowed, and that he would instead have to personally reimburse the office for the expense. The outgoing House Administration Committee Chairman failed to provide official guidance to House offices after the incident, and instead gave conflicting statements to members of the press regarding the policy.
'The whole ordeal was ridiculous - the old committee chair told us we couldn't use the MRA for tampons, then walked it back. But to this day, I don't know what the official policy is - we just need some clarification, and Chairperson Lofgren is the best person to provide it,' said Rep. Maloney. 'Like I said repeatedly last year, saying tampons are superfluous but other hygiene products like hand sanitizer and tissues are totally necessary reinforces the idea that our rules are written by men, for men, and that women are merely second-class citizens on Capitol Hill.'
'It is critical for all women to have access to menstrual hygiene products and that includes those who work on or visit Capitol Hill,' said Congresswoman Meng. 'Providing clear and appropriate guidance would ensure that House offices are able to provide these necessary items to women who require them. These products are basic and essential necessities, just like hand soap and toilet paper, and there should be no confusion or vagueness over how to pay for them. I am proud to have championed many initiatives over the past several years that have increased women's access to menstrual hygiene products, and I'm pleased to help undertake this effort as well.'
'It is past time to address outdated policies that were written without consideration of women inside the chambers of Congress,' said Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz. 'For years, I have advocated for the House of Representatives to facilitate consistent and easier access to necessary menstrual products. This is a basic, but critical health concern for most women, and failing to provide access to these products reflects a disregard for the needs of women and the leadership they bring to the Capitol.'
The MRA is the annual allowance provided to each Congressional office to pay staff, fund official travel, and for the purchase of official supplies and office necessities. Congressional offices are permitted to use the funds to pay for other necessary hygienic products as well as embellished letter openers, brass bookends, gavel sets with engravable plates, and wooden 'executive tissue holders.'
On June 26, Rep. Maloney's office received an email from the Committee on House Administration alerting him that the purchase was not permissible and that he would be required to personally reimburse the funds. More than half of Rep. Maloney's Washington staff are female, and the office hosts constituents and other visitors who may need access to these products on a daily basis.
After the incident, the House Administration's spokesperson claimed the purchase was not denied in the first place. In response to that claim, Rep. Maloney released the text of the email and conducted a 'dramatic reading' on video of the email's text. Personal details on the staffers involved were withheld to protect their personal privacy.
The text of the letter is available below and a scanned copy is available here.
Dear Chairperson Lofgren and Ranking Member Davis,
As you begin your tenure as the leaders of the Committee on House Administration, we ask that you clarify in your guidance that Members may use their Members' Representational Allowance (MRA) to purchase menstrual products and that you provide these products in the House Office Supply Store.
According to the Members' Congressional Handbook, the MRA must only be used for 'ordinary and necessary' expenses in support of the Member's official and representational duties. This has been interpreted to include hygienic products such as lotion, tissues, first aid kits - and even a tissue box engraved with a congressional seal has qualified as an MRA-approved purchase. Just as these items are necessary for employees of the House of Representatives, so too are menstrual products.
Under current leadership, the Committee initially provided unclear guidance on the purchase of menstrual products leading to confusion over what the MRA covers and what it does not. For thousands of House employees, menstrual products are a necessity, not an optional luxury.
In addition to clarifying your guidance, we ask that you make menstrual products available for purchase in the House Office Supply Store. Currently, Members and staff may purchase MRA-approved products in the store. These include items ranging from a stain removal pen to rubber gloves. Menstrual products, which are only available in limited locations across the Capitol, should be included among this collection of items.
The record number of women who were elected to the 116th Congress have shown us the power, diversity, and representation that women bring to the table. As they joined our ranks - many of them proud champions of gender equity - Congress will need to evolve with the needs of Members and their staff. And this begins with meeting the basic needs of women on Capitol Hill.
These changes are a small, but important step towards greater gender equity in Congress. We thank you for considering our request.