Food tax reduction an important step, but Kansas families can’t wait for full cut

January 17, 2023 3:33 am
Gov. Laura Kelly

Gov. Laura Kelly stopped at Mi Pueblito Meat Market, a Latino-owned grocery store in Topeka, in May, to promote a reduction in the state food tax. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. David Jordan is the president of the Hutchinson-based United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.

Food prices have risen an astronomical 12% over the past year. Many Kansans are juggling high food costs with other bills impacted by high inflation. Bringing down costs for all Kansans should be a priority.

Last year, Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law much anticipated bipartisan legislation that took a stair step approach to fully eliminate the state’s sales tax on groceries. As we rang in the new year on Jan. 1, Kansans saw the 6.5% state sales tax reduced to 4% on groceries. Scheduled reductions take the rate down to 2% in 2024 and zero by Jan. 1, 2025.

While the law provides much-needed tax relief, Kansans cannot wait until 2025 to see the food sales tax on groceries eliminated. Kansas lawmakers can, and should, work to eliminate the food sales tax in 2023.

Recognizing the need to act quickly, Kelly has proposed taking immediate action to eliminate the state food sales tax on groceries and other items this year. This action will bring costs down for all Kansans and help make providing food, a basic need for all Kansas families, more affordable.

Beyond the economic benefits of eliminating the tax, making groceries more affordable for families will help make healthy food more available to Kansas families.

Ensuring Kansas families are safe and have food and economic security is foundational for healthy development. Access to food, whether because of affordability or location, is a struggle for many Kansas families.

Ensuring Kansas families are safe and have food and economic security is foundational for healthy development. Access to food, whether because of affordability or location, is a struggle for many Kansas families.

– David Jordan

From our state’s pregnancy and risk assessment report, we know that 31.2% of babies are born to Kansas families with annual incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level, and 22.5% of Kansas women reported having unmet basic needs during pregnancy. Feeding America reports that food insecurity in Kansas rose during 2020, and one in seven Kansas children faces food insecurity, meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from.

Food taxes disproportionately impact low-income families. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The lowest-income fifth of families (those making less than $20,800) — who are disproportionately families of color due to historical and contemporary discrimination — pay almost eight times more as a share of their incomes in sales taxes than the top 1% of families (those making more than $553,200), on average: 7.1% versus 0.9%.”

By eliminating the food sales tax immediately, Kansas lawmakers would reduce disparities and put money back into the pockets of all Kansas families, especially families who need it the most.

With increasing grocery bills, families can’t afford to wait on action. The good news is the state is well positioned financially to act. Kansas revenues have exceeded budget estimates consistently and a strong ending balance is forecasted for the fiscal year.

Kansans are struggling with the high cost of groceries. We can afford to eliminate this tax now and provide much needed relief to all Kansas families. Providing tax relief that reduces their bills by fully eliminating the food sales tax is both fiscally responsible and will improve food security and health for all Kansans.

Kansas families could save more than $450 million over the next three years if Kansas lawmakers take aggressive action to eliminate sales tax on food. We hope policymakers from both sides of the aisle will work quickly to eliminate the sales tax on groceries in Kansas.

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David Jordan
David Jordan

David Jordan is the President of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, a health philanthropy focused on improving the health of Kansans. Before joining the Health Fund, David served as the executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a coalition of more than 100 organizations working to improve access to health care in Kansas. He has more than 20 years of experience leading state and national efforts focused on changing policy to improve health and reduce disparities.