RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Lawmakers, activists, and students met in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday to highlight the need to provide free period products in North Carolina schools.

It’s known as the Menstrual Equity for All Act.

“These are stories that you hear about from third world countries, but unfortunately, it’s happening right here in North Carolina,” LaToya Counts said.

She’s a leader in the Queen City Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, and she’s talking about access, or a lack thereof, to menstrual products.

“The reality is that for half the population, menstrual products are one of those key essential items that they need to live and survive,” Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham), a sponsor of the Menstrual Equity for All Act, added.

On Tuesday, those activists and North Carolina students called on the General Assembly to give more funding to provide those products for free in schools and to also remove the sales tax on the items. They say when K-12 students can’t afford pads or tampons, their academic life suffers.

“This often leads to monthly absences that impact student learning due to being sent to the front office to get menstrual products, or even students getting sent home early,” Emerson Phillips, the student body president at Cary High School, said.

But when the products aren’t provided free-of-charge, some families struggle to afford them. Layla Saliba, with the We Bleed Red organization at North Carolina State University, says families with just one person in need of the products will spend thousands of dollars over time. That amount goes up depending on how many people in the household menstruate.

“Over the course of a lifetime, your typical person with a period will spend thousands of dollars on menstrual products,” Saliba said. “According to a 2019 survey of 2,000 women across the U.S., $13.25 per month is spent on menstrual products. This averages $6,360 in a reproductive lifetime, from puberty to menopause.”

Adding to the cost of it all is the sales tax. In North Carolina, menstrual products are tagged as ‘luxury items,’ not necessities. But lawmakers say that tax only accounts for 0.0007 percent of the state’s annual revenue, and so ditching the tax wouldn’t impact the state, but it would impact families.

“This is a drop in the bucket, but we know that eliminating the sales tax would have a huge impact on the wallets of working families, and especially the 20 percent of women and girls in North Carolina who live below the poverty line,” Representative Julie Von Haefen (D-Wake) said at the conference.

The bill is officially known as House Bill 1087, and lawmakers say there’s bipartisan support to make sure the bill gets more attention this session. They say while they know it’s a process to get the products in schools, the least they can do right now is work to eliminate the sales tax.