Religious groups in Utah criticize plan to raise food sales tax

SALT LAKE CITY – The Coalition of Religious Communities voiced their opposition to raising the food sales tax in Utah.

Some lawmakers are considering increasing it by more than two times, and with 1 in 8 Utah families struggling to afford food, the religious groups say this tax is bad policy.

CORC gathered on the steps of the capitol Thursday morning. They took aim at a lawmaker’s proposal to raise the food sales tax from 1.75% to 4.3% - a more than 100% increase.

Lawmakers say it would be offset by a decrease in the general sales tax rate.

“We think by actually by broadening the base and making the tax more stable, it helps everyone,” said Senator Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

The group argued that low-income families would be hit hardest because they spend most of their income on food.

“About 30% of eligible households who could be accessing the food stamp program for example don't,” said Gina Cornia with Utahns Against Hunger.

For a family of three living on $20,000 a year, by the time they pay rent and other bills, they have little left over to spend on food.

“That's the struggle,” Cornia said.

The group cited other statistics. An estimated 440,000 people in Utah are food insecure, and 70 percent of those who use food pantries must choose between food and transportation, or between food and health care. Additionally, 40 percent of families who use food pantries are the working poor.

“Those families end up having to go to emergency food pantries, which are really essential,” Cornia said.

The coalition says increasing food taxes will not stabilize the budget. They claim that during the 2009 recession, families bought less food, and less expensive food.

“Some of those low-income groups, we actually saw things happen in the last recession that when we had unstable sales tax, general fund revenue, their programs were actually cut first,” Senator Adams said.

Critics worry the public won’t have a chance to weigh in, since lawmakers have yet to put their plan into a bill. But Senator Adams says they’re open to discussing a plan that benefits everyone.

With just a few days left in the session, people on both sides of the issue believe the issue may not get resolved this year.