Sugary Drink Tax Helps Close Seattle's Food Security Gap

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Post Was Originally Published June 5, 2017 on Medium.

Mayor Ed Murray has proposed a controversial tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, following the lead of seven other U.S. cities. There are some problems with the proposal, which would take a disproportionate bite from the wallets of lower-income people. Still, as low-income people of color who organize in South Seattle, the Sugary Beverage Tax deserves our support, especially if diet drinks get added back to the tax.

We have worked hard to ensure that funds raised by the tax will put healthy food on the table for hungry families across our city. The sad reality is that there are no other existing funding streams to close the food security gap. Seattle should not pass on this opportunity to invest in the health of those most in need.

In Seattle, some 122,000 households fall into the “food security gap”: they earn a living wage but are unable to afford healthy food due to the rising cost of rent and other expenses. These families’ incomes are at 200 percent of the poverty level, so they do not qualify for EBT/SNAP benefits. By collecting an additional 1.75 cents for every ounce of any sugar-sweetened beverage sold in Seattle (excluding dairy, medical drinks and diet soda) the Sugary Beverage Tax could raise about $15 million per year. The majority of these funds will be used to help families access affordable, healthy food. In this way, the communities hit hardest by the tax would benefit the most.

Got Green’s Food Access Team is made up of community members who fall into the food security gap. We advocate for access to healthy affordable food for working families. In partnership with 30 community organizations, the Food Access Team urged the City Council to dedicate at least one third of the Sugary Beverage Tax revenue to closing the food security gap. On May 26th, we delivered over 500 petition signatures to the City Council, in the form of a scroll extending across the length of the room. Community members testified about the importance of healthy foods in preventing obesity and diabetes.

It worked: we secured a promise that at least 50 percent of the Sugary Beverage Tax revenue will be directed to food security. The funds will be used to grow the Fresh Bucks program — a dollar-to-dollar match program for EBT/SNAP users to purchase fruits and vegetables at Farmers Markets in Seattle and surrounding areas — and for programs aimed at closing the food security gap.

But in order for those funds to reach our communities, we must pass the Sugary Beverage Tax. The tax will most likely be put to vote in full Council on Monday, June 5, 2017 at 2pm. So come to City Hall on Monday to join Got Green and its partners — help us demand that the council pass the Sugary Beverage Tax, and make Seattle the first city to reinvest this tax money into closing the food security gap for working families.

Urban Resilience