In the United States poverty is a barrier for individuals and families to access basic hygiene products. An individual who makes an income of less than $12,060 a year is considered below the poverty level (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2017); this amount has to suffice for house or rent payments, car payments, trash, phone, water, electricity, food, buying warm clothing for the winter, and so on. Government assistance for food is available for those making less than the poverty line amount, but hygiene products are excluded from approved purchases. This lack of inclusion for basic hygiene products forces people to make a choice between the hygiene items and payments for living needs. In the United States, 14.4 percent of the population live below the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011–2015a). The data are even more shocking within cities, as many demonstrate the disproportional income gap. For example, 40.3 percent of Detroit’s population have an income below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011–2015b). One source of assistance is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP does not include the purchase of nonfood items including soaps, paper products, and household supplies (U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, 2016). Unfortunately, basic hygiene products, such as deodorant, tampons, toothpaste, toilet paper, and so on fall into the excluded categories. Therefore, those who qualify for governmental assistance cannot purchase these essential items with SNAP assistance. Basic hygiene items can quickly become costly. Beyond the essential hygiene products, women pay a higher price due to the necessary monthly cost of menstrual hygiene products. For example, when a woman is on her period, if she chooses to use tampons, she might need four tampons per day for approximately five days—a total of 20 tampons. One box contains 36 tampons and costs $7. Therefore, one woman will need to spend approximately $46 a year on tampons (Kane, 2015). These calculations do not include the taxes placed on these items or any other menstrual products that may be needed. Barriers and Implications for Not Having These Items During my interviews within an East Lansing community, members mentioned various difficulties to acquiring items. An elderly resident noted, “It is hard to get all the way to the bus stop, carry everything I buy from the store onto the bus, and get into my room with everything” (interview with residents of Edgewood Village Apartment complex, February 21, 2017). Others expressed that locations were difficult to access due to the distance and hours of operation: “There are some locations like the People’s Church that have free donated things, but finding time to get there by bus before they close is hard” (interview with residents of Edgewood Village Apartment complex, February 21, 2017). Hygiene products are a necessity, but for those who cannot afford them options are limited for purchase. These difficulties were echoed by Surratt, Kiley, Inciardi, and Kurtz (2005) regarding sex workers stating, “Even when a woman finds a service for which she qualifies and is able to get there during business hours, she is often the victim of stigma associated with her sex work, poor hygiene and appearance, and/or drug use” (p. 355). Currently, there is no research demonstrating the implications, including health consequences, of the lack of hygiene items aside from menstrual and oral hygiene products. There are stigmas and decreased sense of self-esteem when unclean. One can assume that this would affect job prospects and relationships. However, further research on the topic is crucial to obtain data. The lack of a basic need is one way, even in the United States, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. Social Works Values This gap in service is unjust. The National Association of Social Workers (2017)Code of Ethics states, “Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice” (p. 5). It is an injustice that low-income individuals in the United States cannot acquire basic hygiene items. Those who are afflicted by this gap in assistance include individuals, single parents, families, people with disabilities, the elderly, and children. Hygiene items are available, yet they are not accessible to those in need. This speaks to the value of the dignity and worth of individuals. Those who can obtain these items have a yearly income that allows for the purchase of these products while having enough money to pay for other living costs. Acquiring hygiene products should not be an option only for wealthier individuals. E2 |Empathy and Equity| Box Empathy and equity are well-known terms to any social work practitioner. An inaccessibility of basic needs products, due to poverty, demonstrates a gap in equity. Empathy is feeling with the individual who may feel isolated, dirty, or alone because the individual does not have the hygiene items needed. This is an issue requiring action. One project that can provide these basic products to individuals is the E2 |Empathy and Equity| Box. The E2 Box mirrors the concept of the Little Free Library. Rather than books, it is stocked with basic hygiene products including soap, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, pads, toilet paper, laundry detergent, deodorant, and so on. Similar to the Little Free Library, people can either take the products they need or leave products. The pilot E2 Box was launched August 2017 in a low-income apartment complex in East Lansing, Michigan. The project offers an anonymous space for people to acquire the items without judgment or a waiting period. Community engagement was essential to ensure that the E2 Box was a resource that community residents wanted. During community meetings in which challenges, barriers, and needs were discussed, residents were given the opportunity to express possible solutions. Different communities may express distinctive needs. For example, at the pilot location community members expressed need of toilet paper and laundry detergent. Another location may express need of menstrual hygiene products. Once the box was placed on site, creating sustainability was crucial. Partnerships offer strength to the social fabric among community residents of the apartment complex, outside community members, organizations, and institutions. Conclusion The accessibility of hygiene products to those living in poverty is a basic need that is not addressed. Social workers have the opportunity to create social change on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. There must be policy change, research, and programs to offer people in need resources. The E2 Box is one method created to provide these items. Obtaining hygiene products, a basic need, should not be a barrier for anyone. References Kane , J. ( 2015 ). Here’s how much a woman’s period will cost her over a lifetime. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/period-cost-lifetime_n_7258780.html National Association of Social Workers . ( 2017 ). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers . Washington, DC : Author . PubMed PubMed Surratt , H. , Kiley , M. , Inciardi , J. , & Kurtz , S. ( 2005 ). Barriers to health and social services for street-based sex workers . Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 16 , 345 – 361 . doi:10.1353/hpu.2005.0038 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS U.S. Census Bureau . ( 2011 –2015a). Food Stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_S2201&prodType=table U.S. Census Bureau . ( 2011 –2015b). Selected economic characteristics. Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service . ( 2016 ). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items U.S. Department of Health and Human Services . ( 2017 ). Poverty guidelines. Retrieved from https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines © 2018 National Association of Social Workers This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: May 2, 2018
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