Taxing food mostly burdens the hungry

March 3, 2019

We oppose a food tax due to the disproportionate burden it would place on hungry residents of our state.

New Mexico is consistently among the states with the highest rates of food insecurity, as 327,930 New Mexicans, representing 15.8 percent of the state’s population, lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, as compared to 12.9 percent of the national population.

A key part of building a stronger future for the state of New Mexico is healthy, food-secure children. New Mexico has the highest rate of food-insecure children in the nation. Currently, 125,200, or 26 percent, of children in our state experience food insecurity, compared to 17.5 percent of children in the United States overall. A tax on food would have the most adverse effect on low-income families.

Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that low-income families spend a far higher proportion of their household income on food than middle- and high-income households. Specifically, households in the lowest income bracket (mean annual income $11,933) spend 22 percent of their income on food, while households in the middle-income bracket (mean annual income $49,339) spend 8 percent of their annual income on food, and households in the highest income bracket (mean annual income $149,504) spend 4 percent of their income on food.

Low-income households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will still be subject to the food tax despite the fact that SNAP benefits are tax exempt. Since, for the average household receiving SNAP benefits, SNAP only covers 63 percent of its food-at-home spending, households that do receive SNAP still spend substantial amounts on food that will be taxed.

Further, a March 2018 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the Food Assistance Landscape details that, for a variety of reasons, 22 percent of low-income households qualify but receive no SNAP benefits. All of their food-at-home spending will be taxed.

We do not dispute the need for New Mexico to raise revenue from diverse and reliable sources. However, there are other ways to increase the state’s coffers without putting an additional burden on a large number of our most vulnerable citizens.

Sherry Hooper is the executive director of The Food Depot. Tracey Enright is the vice president of Feeding Santa Fe.