Sister Therese Bangert on Monday told lawmakers considering a tax credit for food about her recent encounter with girls in a roadside bathroom.
Bangert, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, spoke in favor of reinstalling a tax credit that was mostly abandoned as part of sweeping tax changes in 2012. House Bill 2720, a product of Gov. Laura Kelly’s tax council, would provide about $63 million in refunds for the bottom half of Kansas tax returns.
Several months ago, Bangert said, she stopped at the visitor center bathroom just off Interstate 70 in Kansas City, Kan.
“I suddenly heard, ’Ooh!’ ’Ahh!’ ’Wow!’ Each exclamation spoke in a distinctive voice,” Bangert said. “The exclamations turned into words: ’This bathroom is so beautiful. It is almost as big as my house.’
“My reflection as I left those primary age girls in the beautiful bathroom is that I can take for granted the abundance that I live in. I believe the persons who would be impacted by House Bill 2720 do not live in abundance.”
Proponents of the tax credit prefer it to an across-the-board reduction in the state sales tax on food because the credit is less costly and will target those who most need the assistance.
Single taxpayers who earn up $30,000 would get $60 back. A married couple earning up to $40,000 would get $240.
The Kansas Department of Revenue said about 350,000 tax returns claimed a similar credit in 2012, for a cost of $55 million. This year, the state set aside $10 million for credits from 50,000 tax filers who still qualify under restrictions imposed in 2012.
The change being considered by the House Taxation Committee would make the credit available to 540,000 tax returns with an additional cost of $53 million.
“Providing a refundable food sales tax credit targets families and individuals who already pay a greater percentage of their income for taxes,” Bangert said. “This targeting is an important attempt to make a fairer tax field.”
The Kansas Policy Institute offered the only testimony in opposition of the tax credit, saying it doesn’t lower the cost of food at the point of sale and questioning its economic impact.
“Kansans will still pay up to 11% for food in certain parts of Kansas,” said KPI’s Michael Austin. “Seeing a larger refund on tax day is not the same tax relief.”
Supporters of the plan include public health institutions and advocates for children.
“Local food policy councils like mine recognize the importance food plays in a healthy lifestyle,” said Erin Laurie, of the Franklin County Food Policy Council. “Sales taxes on food create a barrier for those with lower incomes. HB 2720’s move to a refundable food sales tax credit will improve the system and allow more people to have access to quality food.”
Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas-National Education Association, said passage of the tax credit would meet concerns frequently raised by public school teachers.
Hungry children who don’t have dinner at night may struggle more than other kids to concentrate on lessons, Desetti said.
“While this bill will not totally eliminate food insecurity, it will provide families with a greater ability to put food on the table,” Desetti said. “Beyond simply putting food on the table, a refundable food sales tax credit will enable parents to choose more nutritional foods. Sadly, many of the most affordable foods are also the least nutritious. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often out of reach to the lowest income families.”