Should food banks be exempt from state sales tax?

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The volunteers at the Hancock County Food Pantry say food banks throughout the state should receive a full exemption from all state and local sales taxes. The sales tax has been in existence since 1972.

"The money that we collect for food, seven percent of it is not available to buy food. It just has to go to the state sales tax," said volunteer Bill Blaisdell.

Blaisdell said the late State Senator Jessica Upshaw tried her best to get legislation to the Senate floor to do away with the state sales tax on donated food.

"She put up three or four bills over the various years, and they never made it through the state senate finance committee because it seems no one wants to open up a can of worms and afraid they're going to open up more problems by getting into this."

He is hoping the 2014 Mississippi Legislature will tackle the issue.

The Hancock County Food Pantry has been helping feed the needy for 28 years. These men and women volunteer their time and services in collecting, stocking and handing out food to those in need.

"We're the only full-time food pantry in Hancock County, and we feed about 12,000 people a year in this pantry, about 6,500 families," said volunteer John Wittliff.

Wittliff says the food pantry spent $152,000 on food last year.

"We have no guaranteed income. In other words, there's no agency or government office that says you have this much to start with. We have zip," said Hancock County Food Pantry Executive Director Ed Catone.

"We operate entirely on donated money, donated food from the community and churches."

State Representative Patricia Willis has sponsored House Bill 802, which is called the Jessica Upshaw Food Bank and Food Pantry Sales Relief Act.

"This bill would exempt that food from sales tax, so seven percent of that $152,000 is over $11,500. That would enable us to buy enough food to feed families here in Hancock County an additional month a year," Wittliff said.

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors presented a resolution to the Mississippi Legislature asking them to adopt House Bill 802 that exempts all food pantries in the state.

If the bill is passed, more needy families with hungry children, senior citizens and the homeless would all benefit.

House Bill 802 is out of the Ways and Means Committee and has not been presented on the floor. Willis says the House is taking up appropriations bills today.

State Senator Philip Moran told WLOX he believes if House Bill 802 passes in the House, he can help get it passed in the Senate.

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