Lawmakers call on IRS to allow deductibility and flex spending for breastfeeding equipment and supplies
WASHINGTON, DC-- Representatives Sander Levin (D-MI), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) today sent letters to Commissioner Douglas Shulman of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) urging him to reverse a ruling that denies equipment used to help women breast feed as a health care expense-- excluding them from coverage under flexible health spending accounts and making them non-deductible on tax returns.
Reps. Levin and Maloney were joined by 32 other House members; 9 other Senators joined Sens. Merkley and Harkin.
“The decision by the IRS is at odds with the growing body of medical evidence showing that breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both mothers and babies,” the lawmakers wrote. “Extensive medical research has demonstrated that breast milk goes beyond nutrition and contains antibodies, anti-infective agents, and immunoglobulins that prevent disease…. [C]hildren who are breastfed have decreased risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, bacterial and viral infections, ear infections, jaundice, leukemia, type 1 diabetes, obesity, among other ailments.”
“Scientific evidence demonstrates that breast milk, like vaccines, improves an infant’s health. Government policies should support women who are nursing their babies by removing existing barriers in our tax code,” Rep. Levin said.
"The IRS simply must join the modern age. If the IRS allows a deduction for the installation of artificial turf for asthma sufferers, then it ought to allow a deduction for breastfeeding supplies and equipment-- because breastfeeding has been shown to help reduce the incidence of asthma," Rep. Maloney said.
“The evidence is clear: numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding contributes to the health of both infants and mothers. Making breastfeeding equipment tax deductible should be a no-brainer for the IRS,” Merkley said. “By making it easier for nursing mothers to breastfeed, this common-sense tweak to the tax code will help save money and save lives.”
“We have long known the benefits of breastfeeding -- for mothers, babies and society as a whole,” said Harkin. “So it makes little sense that new mothers who only want to provide the best for their children face an additional burden with the high cost of breast pumps and related supplies. This adjustment would represent a common-sense change, removing barriers to breastfeeding, while increasing the health of infants and babies.”
A pdf of the complete House members’ letter to Commissioner Shulman can be found here; the Senate version is here. (They are identical.)
A tax ruling by the IRS last year disallowed breast pumps and other breastfeeding supplies as medical deductions, thus also excluding them as permissable expenses under flexible health spending accounts. Such accounts have grown in popularity in recent years, partly as a way to help rein in health care costs. Coverage of the IRS/breastfeeding issue in the New York Times is here.
Rep. Maloney and Sen. Merkley secured a provision in health care reforms passed earlier this year that employers of hourly workers are be required to provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
Breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization for all children under six months.
Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace; fully 43 states and the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws which allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. View the list and more at the National Conference of State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org/IssuesResearch/Health/BreastfeedingLaws/tabid/14389/Default.aspx