Testimony in Support of SB 1062 – Ending the Sales Tax on Food

Date: March 25, 2024
To: Senator Brown, Chairman and Members, Senate Economic Development and Tax Policy Committee
From: Christine Woody, Food Security Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
Re: Our support for SB 1062

Empower Missouri is the largest anti-poverty advocacy organization in the state. As part of our work, we organize a statewide Food Security Coalition. This coalition is made up of individuals and organizations who are working to ensure every Missourian has affordable access to healthy and nutritious food.

During the late 1990s, we worked with the Missouri State Legislature to pass a bill that decreased the state sales tax on food from 4.225% to 1.225%. This was significant for Missourians, especially for our neighbors with the lowest incomes. Households in poverty spend a larger proportion of their income on food than higher income households. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey, those in the lowest quintile of income spend over 25% of their income on food, while those in the highest spend less than 5%.  As you know, the cost of food and other necessities are skyrocketing, and re-evaluating the sales tax on groceries is a very timely topic.

Clothing, groceries, medicines and medical devices/equipment are sales tax exempt in most states because they are considered essential items. According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, only 13 states apply a state sales tax to food and only six states have local sales taxes applied to food. Unfortunately, Missouri falls into both of these categories. Senator Coleman’s bill would not only eliminate the state sales tax on groceries but it would phase out localities from being able to tax groceries as well. It is these local sales taxes that are the bigger problem facing low-income families in Missouri.

Missouri counties, municipalities, and special districts are able to levy their own sales tax on food purchased within their boundaries. According to the October 2022 Sales and Use Tax Table released by the MIssouri Department of Revenue, there are thousands of counties, cities and districts within the state that collect local retail sales tax on food. The tables in this report show that the sales tax rates from localities range from 1.725% in St. Clair County to over 8% in districts located in the counties of Belton, 

Cass, Jackson, St. Louis, and St. Louis City. A good number of them are in the 6-7% range.

We are very grateful to Senator Coleman for filing this legislation, and we think that it is critical for the state to re-evaluate its policy on taxing groceries at the state and local level. 

That being said, we want to acknowledge that there is some concern about eliminating the state sales tax on food, as the majority of those funds are earmarked for education, and we know that education funding is a priority.  We agree that education funding is extremely important– but we don’t believe that this funding needs to be achieved by taxing groceries. We would respectfully ask this committee to consider if that funding could be made up through a different source of revenue. 

Similarly, we understand that Missouri localities are limited in what they can tax, and there are concerns about making up this local tax revenue in order for localities to fund essential services.  We are in the process of investigating this issue, and we will be happy to report back to this committee on our findings. We believe there is a way to fund locality essential services without taxing grocery purchases. 

Still, despite these potential issues, we are in strong support of eliminating the sales tax on groceries. Thirty-seven other states manage to balance their budgets without taxing groceries, and we believe that Missouri can do the same. 

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