As faith leaders in the Philadelphia community, we have closely monitored the impact of the beverage tax on those we serve. The tax is intended to ensure our children's access to early childhood education, critical funding for economic development, and additional community programming. Though these initiatives are essential parts of building a Philadelphia that works for everyone, ultimately, the beverage tax does more harm than good because it targets the members of our community who can least afford it.
One group hit especially hard by the tax is seniors. The beverage tax targets many beverages consumed by seniors and others in need of supplemental nutrition, like almond milk, nutrient-rich liquid foods (such as most Ensure products), sports beverages, and some teas. As a result, the tax has had a direct impact on the cost of living for vulnerable members of our community, requiring them to spend more of their already limited incomes on groceries.
Working families in our community have also felt the harmful impacts of the beverage tax. These families are being forced to pay more for their beverages to fund the essential social services that their children should have been provided all along. Our local businesses, particularly minority-owned businesses unable to offset the cost of the tax, have slowed hiring, eliminated jobs, and many risk closing stores because of economic strain from the beverage tax. These are hard-working people and family-owned businesses that have been in our community for decades, and we must do what we can to protect them.
We — coalition of 20 African American pastors representing congregations across our city — call on Philadelphia's elected officials to immediately begin working with the faith community, minority-owned businesses, and other groups to determine the best path forward. Government solutions to community needs should never harm those they are trying to help. If we truly want education initiatives that support economic progress and healthy lifestyles, elected officials should work with community organizers and small business owners, not against them. If pre-K is a program that is open to all and for all, shouldn't a broader base of our citizens help pay for it? Instead, only a select few are shouldered with the tax burden yet all, regardless of income, can benefit. That's not fair.
Together, we must identify the quickest way to end the harmful beverage tax and mitigate its negative effects, while still funding important early education and community development programs. Instead of taxing the members of our community who can least afford it, we should examine the existing sources of city revenue, cure fiscal mismanagement where it's found, and apply the captured revenue to these important community needs. Our city should not have to choose between lower grocery prices and community programs or employment for people of color and early childhood education. Affordable living, employment, education, and business ownership are essential to our local economy — and progress need not be a zero-sum game.