Backers of drinks tax make their case

Food access, public health, early learning, and education programs stand to gain from Seattle’s new sweetened beverage tax that went into effect on New Year’s Day.

The city expects to generate as much as $15 million in its first year, with proponents of the 1.75-cents-per-ounce tax saying Friday its purpose is two-fold.

In a press conference at El Centro de la Raza, city councilmembers and representatives from the Seattle Healthy Kids Coalition detailed where the new revenue is going.

“We know that opportunity and achievement gaps have persisted for far too long in our city,” said councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, “and by investing in programs that support members of our diverse communities, we can start to make that real difference for Seattle’s kids today, and in our shared future.”

Of that $15 million in first-year funding, more than one-third has already been approved by the city council. Nearly $2.5 million will go to an expansion of the Fresh Bucks program — which matches SNAP/EBT benefits up to $10 at participating farmers markets and farm stands throughout the city — with a portion of that going to one-time administrative costs, while another $1 million is set for summer learning and education efforts. The Parent-Child Home Program, which provides literacy education to nearly 600 two-and-three-year-olds from low-income families, will receive a half-million dollar boost, while Our Best — an initiative to support young black men through supportive mentorship — will get just shy of $200,000. Local food banks are set to get just over $150,000.

Another $4 million-plus in investments are awaiting review by the Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board in the spring, with plans to distribute more money to food banks and early learning programs, along with an expansion of food access programs for children when not in school, and the Fresh Bucks To Go effort, to provide families with free or low-cost bags of local fruit and vegetables biweekly at preschool programs serving low-income families.

Work to measure the tax’s effectiveness and impact, and job retraining support for those currently working into the beverage distribution industry will each be supported with $500,000, with just over a million going to general administrative costs within the city.

Up to $5 million is also earmarked over the first five years of the tax for the 13th Year Promise Scholarship, which allows graduating seniors to attend South Seattle College tuition-free for one year.

That’s the type of investment made with the near-term in mind, and the assumption that revenue will later decline in tandem with a decrease in sugary drink consumption.

“We’re making a set of one-time investments, whereas most of those ongoing investments like the Fresh Bucks program are going to be funded by a baseline that will continue in the long-run,” said councilmember Rob Johnson.

As a whole, the money is intended to support those communities most affected by the negative impacts of sweetened beverage consumption.

“The soda industry disproportionately targets communities of color,” said councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, “communities of color who are basically being targeted for these sugary beverages, which makes us die earlier, have our kiddos have poorer health outcomes, and — frankly — an industry that makes money off the back of mostly brown communities and lower-income communities.”

But beyond the money itself, the hope is also that consumers will transition to other beverages, like water and 100-percent juice, unaffected by the tax.

“This is a critical public health approach that transitions individual choices so that they can have healthy options in their communities and in their neighborhoods,” Mosqueda said.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez addressed assertions that the tax will have a negative impact on local business or the soda industry, saying they didn’t see data from other cities to institute similar measures that backed the claim.

“What we saw instead was the soda industry adjusted its products to encourage people to buy them without the sugar, so we ended up seeing an infusion of less sugary drinks and more healthy beverage choices into the market in order for those manufacturers to continue to make the profits that they were making,” she said.

That’s a trend she expects to continue in Seattle, and she’s hopeful for what the impact of the new investments will be long-term.

“I’m looking forward to in 10, 15, 20 years seeing all of the wonderful, positive outcomes that I know we’re going to see as a result of making this decision last year.”

For more information on the Seattle Healthy Kids Coalition, visit