SAN DIEGO — A bill that would provide a sales tax exemption for critical maternal health care products in California is still sitting on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk with one day left before the deadline to sign it into law.
Assembly Bill 1203, introduced by Assemblymembers Dr. Jasmeet Bains (D-Delano) and Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside), would temporarily remove added sales taxes to breast pumps and related supplies like storage bags and pads.
The goal of the measure, which passed with unanimous support through the state legislature in September, is to expand accessibility to breastfeeding as an option for families by making it more affordable while also creating financial equality with the already tax-exempt infant formula.
“Taxing breast pumps imposes a financial burden on working mothers and puts formula feeding and breastfeeding on unequal footing,” Bains said in a statement to FOX 5. “We should be making it cheaper to feed our children, not more expensive.”
Breastfeeding is widely recommended by pediatric doctors, given the health benefits it provides to both infants and mothers.
These benefits include the baby’s optimal nutrition, immune system support and healthy weight development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the mother, breastfeeding can help with postpartum recovery, connecting to their child and the promotion of hormones that can benefit the mother’s mental health.
However, breastfeeding can get quite expensive for families, which is why many choose to make the switch to formula after several months.
A year of breastfeeding can cost families anywhere from about $7,940 to $10,585, according to a recent study by Yale School of Medicine researchers. In comparison, the cost of a one-year supply of formula ranges from about $760 to $2,280.
The study calculated the expense by looking at the equipment and supplies needed to breastfeed, as well as the required nutritional intake for the pregnant individual and opportunity cost incurred due to the time — roughly three to four hours a day — it demands.
Insurance can help with this cost to an extent, but it can still be a difficult financial burden for low-income or working families to feed their infant with naturally-produced milk.
As many as one in five children in the U.S. under the age of five are currently living in a household below the federal poverty limit where the cost of breastfeeding would take up more than half of the family’s income, the study found.
This burden is exacerbated when caregivers return to work, as they need equipment to prepare the breastmilk around their schedule. Without the flexibility offered by pumps and other equipment, families could be required to take time off work, thus forgoing income.
“Breast pumps are an absolute necessity for families that want to breastfeed. They provide one of the only realistic options for mothers to continue to breastfeed their children once they go back to work,” Bains said. “It’s time to cut this tax on new parents. Breastfeeding should be tax-free just like formula feeding.”
Similar measures have been implemented in multiple states across the country, such as Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Conditional exemptions dependent on factors like Medicaid status are available in six other states including Texas, Florida and Massachusetts.
California already has a retail tax exemption for the sale of other healthcare-related equipment used by seniors, disabled or injured individuals. The exemption covers items prescribed by a physician including crutches, canes, walkers and wheelchairs among other things.
Should AB 1203 be signed into law, removal of the 8.5% state sales tax on breast pumps, for instance, could slash anywhere from $30 to $40 off their final price, according to Aeroflow Healthcare, who helped lobby for the bill with the organization Parity for Pumps.
“The breastfeeding product category is an item that’s been missed and overlooked,” said Ryan Bullock, Chief Operating Officer at Aeroflow. “There’s an opportunity across the country and several states have recognized that and put legislation in place to bring parity to these products.”
While the bill has broad support, it is unclear whether Newsom will sign the bill into law by the Oct. 14 deadline. The governor has rejected an unusually large percentage of bills — over 30% — sent to his desk this year.
One of the common themes cited by Newsom in dozens of letters attached to these vetoes was concern about how the measure would impact the ongoing efforts to close a $30 million budget deficit without cutting major programs “relied on by millions of Californians.”
Removing the sales tax from breast pumps and other equipment could result in the loss of $7.1 million in General Fund tax revenue for the 2024 to 2025 fiscal year, according to estimates from the Senate Appropriations Committee. There would also be likely be millions in local government revenue losses with the exemption.
Should it be signed into law, the tax exemption would go into effect on Apr. 1, 2024. It will sunset five years later in Apr. 1, 2029. If Newsom opts to reject the measure, Bullock says Parity for Pumps will work with legislators to introduce it again as part of the next state budget.