In over 120 years, Empower Missouri has advanced and passed many successful policies. One of the most impactful was a significant decrease in the food sales tax led by our Hunger Task Force back in 1999. Our leaders identified that issue because our task force members were keenly aware of how sales tax is an extremely regressive form of taxes. Our neighbors with the lowest incomes feel the burden of those taxes more than folks with higher incomes.
This is still true over 20 years later.
The pandemic brought to light the struggles low wage workers face in ways that we had not seen for a long time. Workers with low incomes were less able to stay home, less likely to have sick leave to care for themselves and their families, and more likely to experience a job loss. Minimum wage is not enough to support a family. With skyrocketing housing and food prices families just can’t make ends meet. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices have gone up 8% over the past 5 years.
With the increase in food prices, so has the amount of taxes collected on the sale of food. Sales taxes increase income inequality because low-income individuals end up paying a higher share of their income on basic needs like food. According to the Consumer Expenditure Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest income quintile spends over 25% of their income on food, while the highest income spends only 5%.
There are many ways to address these inequalities. Empower Missouri and many of our partners are working on them every day. Increasing the minimum wage, expanded healthcare access, and increasing support for local farmers just to highlight a few. As always, it is important to view food access as a system. There is no golden policy solution that would immediately address nutrition inequality across the state. In addition the bulk of food sales taxes that our neighbors pay is actually through local taxes, including extra taxes which are used to offset development costs in specific areas.
Empower Missouri supports eliminating the sales tax on food as a step toward nutrition equity. We thank Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman for sponsoring HB 1992 on the issue. You can be sure that we will continue to work on it to be as effective as possible.