(Oklahoma City, December 16, 2008) – Organizations from across the state are calling on the Oklahoma Legislature to strengthen the Sales Tax Relief Credit, a move that would provide much needed and ongoing benefits to families and individuals struggling to cope with the rising cost of groceries and other basic goods during tough economic times.
The Sales Tax Relief Credit, more commonly known as the grocery tax credit, was enacted in 1990 as a means to offset the state sales tax on groceries but has failed to keep pace with rising prices. Food prices have risen more than 6 percent in the past year alone and Oklahoma has among the nation’s highest rates of food insecurity, leading to growing demands on food pantries and other social assistance providers.
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma reports a 42 percent increase in individuals served during the first eight months of 2008 compared to 2007. “Every day we see a growing demand for food among Oklahoma’s families,” said Sara Waggoner, the Food Bank’s Executive Director. “Increasing the amount of the tax credit will help relieve some of the pressure on struggling families and the local charities who strive to support them.”
A growing coalition of organizations (listed to the left) and individuals have joined together to promote a boost in the grocery tax credit. Legislation to increase the credit is expected to be filed prior to the start of the 2009 legislative session. The organizations today distributed a letter to all legislators and Governor Henry urging their support for this proposal.
The amount of the credit has been left unchanged at $40 since 1990, and eligibility was last expanded over a decade ago. With inflation, the value of the credit in offsetting the sales tax on groceries has eroded. Frozen eligibility levels have left fewer families eligible for the credit with each passing year. “By not changing the amount of the credit, or broadening eligibility to keep up with inflation, it is no longer helping the families it was designed to assist,” said David Blatt, Director of Policy of Oklahoma Policy Institute, a member of the coalition.
“We know that low-income families spend a greater share of their income buying groceries to feed their families,” said Reverend Rockford Johnson, President of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. “Increasing the grocery tax credit offers a compassionate response to the plight of families struggling to make ends meet.” Rev. Johnson noted that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Bishop of the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church have endorsed this initiative, and expects other constituent groups of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches to do so as well.
Camille Landry is a single working mother of five children, including a 6-year old child with special needs, whose family has turned to food pantries to supplement what she can afford to purchase at the grocery store. “The money I spend on sales tax on groceries is money that I don’t have for clothing, rent, utilities and other essentials. This credit will help me keep food on the table and avoid some of the most difficult choices I have to face,” stated Ms. Landry.
“With rising prices for food and other essentials, boosting the grocery tax credit would be especially helpful for seniors living on fixed incomes,” said Bob Bristow, State President of AARP Oklahoma, one of several organizations representing seniors that have endorsed this campaign. Seniors and families with children are currently eligible for the credit up to $50,000 in household income.
The letter from the groups to elected leaders acknowledges that this will be a tough budget year and that there will be competing demands on scarce resources. “But to the extent that targeted tax cuts are part of the discussions during the upcoming session, we fervently hope that you will make increasing the amount of the grocery tax credit and raising eligibility a priority,” the letter states.
For more information on the grocery tax credit, please visit our website. The following link will take you directly to the Grocery Tax Endorsement page.