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Hunger-Fighting Group: Food Tax Hike Hurts Low-Income UT Families

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Many Utah families most likely won't be able to buy as many groceries if a proposal to increase the state sales tax on food goes into effect. (Adobe Stock)
Many Utah families most likely won't be able to buy as many groceries if a proposal to increase the state sales tax on food goes into effect. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mark Richardson - Producer, Contact
July 10, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY - An advocacy group is opposing a massive increase in the sales tax on food as one of the changes being proposed for Utah state taxes.

Utahns Against Hunger has said a proposed 177% increase in state sales taxes on food could harm many low-income people and increase the rate of food insecurity across the state. Gina Cornia, the group's executive director, said the plan to tax food at the full state sales-tax rate of 4.85% would hit impoverished families with children hardest.

"From grocery trip to grocery trip, when you add up the sales tax on food, that may not seem like a lot to most people," she said, "but even if it's a few dollars, that's a few more dollars that you don't have to purchase groceries for your family."

The hike is part of a plan under study by the Utah Legislature's Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force, which was appointed near the end of the last session. The group of legislators and elected officials has been holding a series of town hall meetings around the state to develop a new tax structure, in a state economy where services are outpacing the sale of goods.

Cornia said an increase in food taxes would cost the average family about $20 extra a month, or slightly more than $240 a year.

"For the 15 percent of people who already are struggling to afford enough food, it will impact each one of those households," she said, "and when you look at households with children, that's one in six households."

She said she thinks lawmakers should look elsewhere to find more revenue for the state's coffers.

"It is important for us to think about the impacts of tax reform and to look at more progressive policies," she said. "Taxing food is a very regressive tax, and it disproportionately impacts the people who can least afford to pay it."

While SNAP benefits or food stamps are available to many poor families, Cornia said, they don't cover most of the monthly food bill. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, low-income families spend more than one-third of their income on food, while middle-class families spend about 13% of their income.

The remaining town halls will be held Saturday, July 20, at Grand Center, 182 N. 500 W. in Moab, with an open house beginning at 1 p.m. and the town-hall meeting starting at 2; and on Tuesday, July 30, at Utah County, Silicon Slopes/UTC, 2600 Executive Parkway, Suite 140, in Lehi, with an open house beginning at 6 p.m. and the meeting starting at 7 p.m.

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