Taos Behavioral Health column

A food tax hurts those who can least afford it

By Mary McPhail Gray
For The Taos News
Posted 3/13/19

Sometimes in our lives as members of a democracy, we have the opportunity to stand for justice, compassion and fairness. Such an opportunity is up right now as the New Mexico legislature winds down …

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Taos Behavioral Health column

A food tax hurts those who can least afford it

Posted

Sometimes in our lives as members of a democracy, we have the opportunity to stand for justice, compassion and fairness. Such an opportunity is up right now as the New Mexico legislature winds down its session in a flurry of activity. The session ends at noon Saturday (March 16).

We at Taos Behavioral Health serve clients with great needs for community compassion and support. Approximately 80 percent of our clients live below or just above the official federal poverty line. This is also reflected in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count National Data base that names New Mexico as 50 in child well-being in 2018. Over the past 19 years, New Mexico was once (1990) 40th in the nation. For the past seven years, we have been at the very bottom of the list. This is a chronic tragedy for our families, especially our youth.

Well-being is determined by economic income, education, health, and family and community. In all of these areas, we find our clients fighting to get ahead, to solve problems and realize their dreams for themselves and family members. One of the glaring issues is poverty because jobs offer minimum wages, high stress, few benefits and little stability--or no job at all.

These factors erode the physical and mental health of our community. Being so often caught with little power to make a difference in their lives creates anger, depression and despair. Providing for their family needs is always a fight over competing demands - food, clothing, rent, transportation, medical services. None of these is trivial or dispensable. People become skilled at bartering and sharing and asking for family help.

In order to receive our services, we ask that our clients present insurance information and pay a co-pay amount that is possible for them. We believe this creates buy-in and commitment on their part to heal, grow and empower themselves with our support. We respect the fact that they come to us with sorrow and frustration, but they take the courageous step to make changes.

Then, something like the bills being considered in the New Mexico Legislature can knock them over. Senate bills 421, 484 and 585 include provisions to add a 3 percent to 8.5 percent tax on food purchases. This has not been our practice in New Mexico for 15 years, yet somehow special interests see food tax as a public resource, when we see food as a human right. A human right to support health, growth and freedom from disease and despair.

Our deep anger rises when we realize that a family of four living on a minimum wage job will have to spend $952 a year out of their annual pay of $15,600 to satisfy this demand. Hidden in every grocery bill, not another gallon of milk or poultry or vegetables but a payment "to the state." We also know that food pantries and congregate meal sites will be impacted by these taxes, so less food is available for those in need.

Come, we are better than this. We can express our outrage at this regressive tax most cruel to those already in need. Those who wish to support this tax have even talked about attaching it to the omnibus spending bill, so the governor, who has promised to veto, this action would be trapped and unable to express her choice against the need to finish a budget.

So call, email and visit our representatives immediately. Sen. Carlos Cisneros at carlos.cisneros@nmlegis.gov or call (505) 986-4362 and Rep. Roberto Gonzales at Roberto.gonzales@nmlegis.gov or at (505) 986-4319. Express your compassion for our fellow residents and show the compassion that is deep in New Mexico. Ask that this action not be taken. We must find other ways to make the budget work. Food justice is human justice.

Visit us at Taosbehavioralhealth.org. Call (575) 758-4297.

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