Soda Tax Starts Paying Off

Remember that soda tax 62 percent of S.F. voters supported in 2016? City Hall has now decided what to spend it on.

Part of the soda tax will be used to maintain SFUSD’s water fountains, offering kids an alternative to sugary beverages. (Courtesy Photo)

Remember the soda tax? In 2016, more than 62 percent of San Francisco’s residents voted to approve the Soda and Sugary Beverages Tax measure, a controversial proposal that imposed a one cent tax per ounce on sugary beverages like soda to fund health inequity prevention measures citywide. It was a race dominated by large billboards, internet ads, TV commercials, and piles of mailers; all toldBig Soda spent tens of millions of dollars, only to lose. 

A year and a half later, local government is finally putting its money where its mouth is.  On Tuesday, Mayor Mark Farrell and Supervisor Malia Cohen announced that they plan to spend the $10 million a year in soda tax revenue in assisting low-income communities and communities of color. Of that, $4.5 million will go to grants supporting community-based organizations, and the San Francisco Unified School District will get $2.5 million to support healthy meals, water fountain maintenance, and oral care in schools. 

The latter, they hope, will end a cycle of obesity and diabetes that disproportionately affects low-income communities.

“The San Francisco Unified School District is uniquely positioned to leverage its scale and role to prevent sugar-sweetened beverage related diseases, such as obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, and to disrupt and reverse health inequities in our community,” said Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. “The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax revenue will increase our capacity to prepare students for learning and to practice healthy habits. This tax revenue will allow us to expand access to nutritious meals made of quality ingredients and locally grown produce, install more water hydration stations in our schools, increase access to dental care, and establish robust nutrition education and student engagement programs to support healthy choices.”

The funds will also provide healthy eating vouchers to community-based organizations for their members, expand peer programming at HOPE SF housing sites, and support the City’s Peace Parks program and the Healthy Retail program.

The budget decisions were recommended by the Sugary Drinks Distribution Tax Advisory Committee, which began meeting in December 2017 to provide data-based recommendations. While the group has been instrumental in helping direct the funds, Roberto Vargas, co-chair of the committee, says it couldn’t be done without the help of other Bay Area organizations. 

“It’s gratifying to see the result of many years of collective effort by UCSF, UC Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco Public Health Department, S.F. policymakers and local health advocates,” he said. “Mayor Farrell’s budget proposal strongly supports evidence-based approaches, and lives up to San Francisco’s commitment to reinvesting these dollars back into the communities most targeted by the soda industry, and most impacted by disease associated with consuming sugary drinks.”

All told, this is one move voters made that is hard to argue with. Soda may cost more, yes, but for some the results of the tax could be life-changing. 

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