A bill signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy Wednesday will require at least half of all girls’ and gender-neutral bathrooms in New Jersey schools to have free menstrual hygiene products, part of a move to end period poverty.

Almost one in four U.S. youth struggle to afford menstrual products, with students of color and from low-income families especially impacted, according to a 2021 study. Improving access to menstrual hygiene products ensures students can focus on learning and protects their menstrual health, advocates say.

“When students can’t access the menstrual products they need for their reproductive health, the potential stress and stigma too often distracts them from their classes or forces them to skip school entirely – leading to social and academic repercussions that no one should have to face,” Murphy said in a statement.

The state will cover the mandate’s cost, which is expected to range between $1.8 million to $3.5 million the first year to equip and stock bathrooms in almost 1,400 public schools that enroll a total of about 355,000 female students in grades 6 to 12, according to a June fiscal estimate. The law will take effect starting in the 2024-25 school year.

The new law tasks state health and education officials with determining if the products provided meet students’ needs, or if students in lower grades should get them too.

It’s part of a broader effort to improve “menstrual equity” in New Jersey.

Lawmakers in 2019 ordered state prisons to provide free menstrual hygiene products to incarcerated people. The state Department of Health also created a website that has information about common menstrual disorders, advice on period products, gynecological visits, and more.

Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.