Boulder’s food tax rebate is great – if people only knew

picture by nrd on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

By Timothy Thomas

Applications for the Boulder Food Tax Rebate (FTR) program are due in a few days. Eligible individuals can receive $92 and families $280 to reimburse the amount spent in sales tax on groceries. Applicants must have earned less than a certain amount and be either disabled, aged 62 or over for the whole of 2021, or have children under the age of 18 for the whole of 2021.

Read: Should Boulder scrap the sales tax on groceries?

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this program. The city’s efforts to publicize it have been terribly disappointing. A graph on the city’s website indicates that for several years applications have been falling at the end of June. Those familiar with the program probably filled out their forms months ago. By mid-May, the city had paid $60,424 in rebates, according to notes from a city council meeting.

Apply and learn more about the FTR

With gas and food prices rising, shouldn’t the city be doing everything it can to ensure that as many qualified people as possible receive this discount? What has the city done to increase the number of applicants?

I live in a Boulder Housing Partners (BHP) apartment complex. The city designed a specific form for BHP residents, presumably to streamline the process. BHP mentioned the FTR in their newsletter and even have forms available in a few of their buildings. Nevertheless, many BHP residents are still unaware of the program. I spoke to several of my neighbors. Some were totally unaware of the existence of the FTR or that they qualified for it.

Could BHP do more to help? BHP has community services staff already assigned to the various BHP properties. I requested that they go to their residential developments with printed forms for their residents as soon as possible. The response was mixed to say the least. Also, it would seem wise to set up information tables in supermarkets where taxes are paid.

I believe almost every apartment in my BHP complex would qualify for this discount. BHP owns dozens of properties. Hundreds of its residents at most of its properties would likely qualify for this program. I have personally delivered FTR forms to every apartment in my complex and will be delivering more to other developments in the coming days, but my time and resources are limited. It is the City’s responsibility to engage in this type of action.

Even though I got help, there is another problem. Individuals and families must prove they have lived in Boulder for all of 2021 to qualify for the FTR. How many people will be excluded from FTR due to this one calendar year residency requirement?
Anyone who has lived in Boulder for any length of time knows that many leases in Boulder start during the summer to coincide with the CU school year. In my nearly thirty years of living in Boulder, I’ve always had leases that start and end in the summer months. New Boulder residents are excluded from the program even though they have paid food taxes for much of the year.

I asked members of the city council to extend the deadline to allow a renewed effort to get this money to eligible people. This was done a few years ago when the federal government and the state extended their tax filing deadlines. My request was denied.

The Council is exploring new programs to fund, such as piloting a basic income program and an e-bike discount (Editor’s Note: Exploration of e-bike discounts suspended until staff complete ongoing projects). Why put so much effort into new programs when we can’t even market the ones we have?

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Carshare for donating the free use of their cars for this personal mission of mine. This is an example of a public enterprise in action.

Finally, help us share this program with people you know who may be eligible. These people could really use this money.

Timothy Thomas is a longtime Boulder resident

Boulder Beat Opinion Group members write in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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