ALABAMA – The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is reporting the annual rate of inflation is near 40-year highs. That means food and other household items are getting more and more expensive.
Officials with the non-profit Alabama Arise say that’s creating a crunch for people on a fixed income or who use nutrition assistance programs, but they are hoping the Alabama legislature can help provide some relief.
The consumer price index for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs rose 12 percent in the past 12 months, according to the BLS. In the same time frame dairy products increased 3 percent.
“It’s not just food, though of course everyone has to have food, but we are seeing fuel costs go up. We are seeing housing costs go through the ceiling,” said Carol Gundlach with Alabama Arise. “And there aren’t a lot of resources for families that are having to choose between food and medicine and housing and utility payments and so every time one of them goes up it puts more pressure on the other.”
One resource for families can be SNAP benefits. In January, 53,604 Alabamians used SNAP benefits, often referred to as food stamps. Gundlach says those federal benefits are calculated annually and spiking inflation means the program may not keep up with these increased costs.
“The amount of assistance is really based on where we were quite a while ago and before the current inflation,” Gundlach explained.
SNAP benefits were bolstered due to the pandemic. According to the USDA in 2021, Congress temporarily increased benefits in two ways. Benefits were raised by 15 percent. That increase has since expired.
Additionally, every household was boosted to the maximum benefit for their household size. The USDA says this increase will expire when a participant’s state or the federal government end pandemic emergency status. Gundlach says some are calling for the Biden administration to lift the federal state of emergency.
“This is just not the time to end the federal emergency even as we pull out of many of the COVID restrictions,” she said. “Down the line we hope that Congress will reconsider how we calculate SNAP benefits and maybe get some increases that we need to keep up with inflation.”
In the meantime, Alabama Arise is backing a solution Gundlach says could help ease the pressure in our state.
“And that is to simply take the tax, the sales tax, off of groceries,” Gundlach said. “If we took the 4 percent state sales tax off of groceries that would be the equivalent of two weeks worth of food assistance or food for everybody in the state of Alabama, rich or poor everybody would benefit.”
Gundlach says there are multiple bills in the Alabama legislature that would do this.
Alabama’s grocery sales tax goes to school funding. Some lawmakers are concerned about finding a funding replacement.
This isn’t the first attempt to do away with Alabama’s tax on groceries, but Gundlach says she hopes it will pass this year.
13 states in the US have grocery sales taxes. Three of those states, Alabama, South Dakota and Mississippi, apply the same sales tax rate to food as other goods and services, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That amounts to a 4 percent tax in Alabama.