How the Sweetened Beverage Tax Allows Families to Stretch their Food Dollars Further


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When I think of the sweetened beverage tax, I picture the face of Nora Jenkins.

Jenkins shops at the Columbia City Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and picks up her favorite vegetable – collard greens.

She receives SNAP assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but through a program called Fresh Bucks, she’s able to double the amount of money she spends on fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s because Fresh Bucks provide a dollar-for-dollar match to shoppers who make purchases with SNAP benefits at farmers markets, market stands and neighborhood grocery stores.

Fresh Bucks in Seattle is now primarily funded by the city’s Sweetened Beverage Tax.

When my Council colleagues and I passed the Sweetened Beverage Tax last year, we heard clearly from community members that it was important the money collected was reinvested back into the city’s lower income communities, communities of color, and communities with food deserts. Low-income communities and communities of color bear the burden of poor health outcomes in the city.  Communities of color have long been targets of the soda industry, leading to higher rates of consumption, and thus, are paying more of the tax.  For this tax to be fair, revenue must be reinvested into the health of these communities. The Council’s number one funding priority was resources for increasing food access, and expanding those opportunities for people in the food security gap.  

“There are 122,000 families in King County who work and earn a living wage, but struggle to put healthy food on the table. They’re not eligible for food benefits such as EBT or SNAP, and there aren’t many additional programs to help those families buy more fruits and vegetables. Next year, revenue from the Sweetened Beverage Tax will expand access to Fresh Bucks, allowing food insecure families to take advantage of our matching program at local farmers markets,” said Tanika Thompson, food access organizer for Got Green and member of the Food Access Coalition.

The legislation also established a Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board (CAB). The board is made up of community members involved in grassroots solutions to food justice issues, and public health and education experts working with low income communities and communities of color. The CAB works collaboratively with the community to make recommendations on where money collected through the tax should go.

The Community Advisory Board will present their recommendations to my committee on Friday at 2:00 p.m.

In the first and second quarters of this year, the city collected $10.7 million through the Sweetened Beverage Tax. Mayor Durkan is expected to present her budget later this month, and it’s my hope to see her set a budget that is consistent with the board’s recommendations.

Jenkins said since she’s discovered the Fresh Bucks program six months ago through her church and Got Green, her health has improved. Jenkins has been able to decrease her medications because she’s eating healthier.

Nora Jenkins, right, being interviewed about Fresh Bucks.

“Food stamps only go so far and they only give you so much. Now with this program, I’m eating healthy. A lot of vegetables and fruits. My doctor is happy. My body is happy. And I’m very happy,” Jenkins said.

Fresh Bucks also helps our local farmers and their businesses. The program generated $1.5 million in business to local farmers since 2012. Clayton Burrows, Executive Director of Growing Washington, said the farmers market system in Seattle has done a wonderful job promoting and securing funding for Fresh Bucks.

“It gives people who might not be able to afford farm fresh food access, and this has been very rewarding to me. In our society food is really undervalued. When we buy cheap food, it’s harming the environment and our health because it’s often laced with chemicals. The Fresh Bucks program is a model for urban areas and a testament to the important work happening in Seattle,” Burrows said.

So far this year, we’ve also more than doubled Fresh Bucks usage compared to the same time last year. In addition, Fresh Bucks is expanding to invest further in community thanks to the Sweetened Beverage Tax. This year, Fresh Bucks has been able to:

  • Partner with 26 healthcare clinics are prescribing Fresh Bucks Rx (cash-value vouchers) to people in the food gap so they can buy more fruits and vegetables
  • Pilot partnerships with community-based organizations to distribute fruit and vegetable vouchers to people in the food gap
  • Increase the benefit available to SNAP customers by doubling their dollars for fresh produce purchases, and removed the limit on how much benefit they can earn
  • The Fresh Bucks program is about to launch in supermarkets, which will increase year-round access to the program and increase the number of retail sites where customers can use their Fresh Bucks to buy fruits and vegetables

I look forward to continuing to support these programs as they grow, to help ensure low-income families and families of color in Seattle have access to healthy food.

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