Should the City of Dallas provide feminine hygiene products to residents at taxpayer expense?

This question ignited a debate at City Hall last week when the Dallas City Council voted in favor of an agreement to provide menstrual products and other hygiene items to lower-income residents at the cost of $700,000 in taxpayer money.

While the agenda item passed, its authorization was not met without pushback. Mayor Eric Johnson voted against the item, as did Council Members Paul Ridley (District 14) and Cara Mendelsohn (District 12).

“Is it that we’re allocating $700,000 to buy tampons and pads for people?” asked Mendelsohn.

The City launched the Period Access Dallas (PAD) program in 2022 with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, making feminine hygiene products available for free at various public facilities throughout the city.

Champions of the program claim that providing such products for free allows lower-income women and girls to continue going to work or school when they otherwise would not be able to.

The new agreement established Staples as the vendor for this program through the end of 2025.

“I’m going to vote against this,” said Mendelsohn. “I am uniquely qualified to understand the importance of feminine hygiene. I think all women understand this issue. However, I don’t think it’s the City’s responsibility to be paying for this.”

“As we have spent so many months talking about the urgent needs across our city, I haven’t heard anybody come down and talk about this one,” she continued. “But I know about our unfunded pension. I know about the condition of our streets. I know about lots of different things that need dollars.”

Mendelsohn expressed concern that the City is “not staying in [its] lane” and noted that nonprofits and food banks provide hygiene products to women who may struggle to afford them.

However, other council members argued that this program is a valuable and needed City service.

Council Member Paula Blackmon (District 9), who shepherded the program in its early days, said the dollars the City contributed are minimal compared to its total budget. Last Wednesday’s agreement authorized spending $400,000 in municipal dollars and $300,000 in federal funding.

“I think our duty is when there is a void in getting something done, we must step in. And at the tune of $400,000 — and how big is our budget? It’s over a billion. I don’t know how $400,000 is going to … fix our pension, which is a billion-dollar hole,” she said.

Council Member Jaynie Schultz (District 11) added that this program preserves the “dignity” of Dallas residents.

“I believe that Dallas stands for dignity,” she said.

Schultz claimed it would be “shameful” for the City to cancel the program, claiming these funds are not taking resources away from other City needs like parks and streets.

However, Mendelsohn maintained that the expenditure does not fall under the purview of the City.

“I think we really need to consider the things that we’re spending money on,” she said. “We need to get very serious about what our job is. … This seems to be beyond what our City government should be doing.”

Mendelsohn noted the various financial needs of the City, including the deficit of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, along with the needed maintenance and repairs of parks, streets, and City facilities.

City staff said they were working to make the PAD program more “sustainable” by pursuing partnerships with local nonprofits so federal dollars are not needed to fund the program.