Karen Siebert knows what role the Kansas grocery tax plays for her clients at Harvesters, a nonprofit that helps provide food to people in 16 Kansas counties and 10 Missouri.
Many of Harvesters’ clients live in rural communities with limited access to grocers. In Kansas they see 6.5 percent state food tax plus added local and country taxes on top of it. You could be talking 11 percent in taxes by the time you are finished calculating the taxes.
Those taxes can add up quickly, especially if shoppers have few options on where to go and compare food prices. If someone is trying to meet basic needs and has access to transportation, they might look to go into Missouri, which has a 1.225 percent food tax rate, or into Nebraska, which has zero food tax.
“In central Kansas (a grocery store) could be an hour way,” Siebert says. “Going across the state line is not something they can do. Those who live on the interior of the state do not have the same,” she says.
Others, she says, might be working multiple jobs and have unreliable transportation, so crossing state lines is not an option.
Siebert herself lives in Prairie Village that shares a border with Missouri. She has a family of four, including two children.
“I don’t necessarily go across the state line just to grocery shop, but if I am going across for something else, I will pick something up,” she says.
Sometimes she plans a stop at Costco on the Missouri side to stock up in bulk on certain items.
“It does impact my thinking and it can make a huge financial difference,” she says.” I’m fortunate that added taxes are not going to make or break my budget, but I know people that 11 percent makes a huge difference. And that can be the difference in buying healthy food.”
“Our high sales tax on food means it makes financial sense of many Kansans to cross state borders to buy groceries,” Ashley Jones-Wisner, state policy director for KC Healthy Kids. “Lowering the sales tax on food would help ensure Kansas dollars will stay in our state.”
By Traci Angel
What Does Your Legislator Think?
KC Healthy Kids surveyed every candidate running for the 165 seats in the Kansas Legislature to find out what they think about the Kansas grocery tax and other healthy eating and active living policy issues. See Their Responses (11×17 PDF)