Guest opinion: Boulder’s food tax rebate is great — if people knew about it

Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

By Timothy Thomas

Applications for Boulder’s Food Tax Rebate Program (FTR) are due in a matter of days. Qualified individuals can receive $92 and families $280 to repay the amount spent on sales tax for groceries. Applicants must have earned under a certain amount and be either disabled, 62 or older for all of 2021, or have children under 18 for all of 2021.

Read: Should Boulder do away with sales tax on groceries?

Regrettably, many people do not know about this program. The city’s efforts to publicize it have been woefully underwhelming. A graph on the city website indicates that for several years applications have dropped off at the end of June. Those that do know about the program probably filled out their forms months ago. As of 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 rising prices of gas and food, shouldn’t the city be doing all that it can to make sure as many qualified people as possible receive this rebate? 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 has mentioned the FTR in their newsletter and even has forms available in a few of its buildings. Nonetheless, many BHP residents still do not know about the program. I spoke to several of my neighbors. Some were totally unaware of the FTR or that they qualified.

Could BHP do more to help? BHP has Community Services staff already assigned to the various BHP properties. I have requested that they go to their residential developments with printed forms for their residents ASAP. The response has been tepid to say the least. Also, it would seem to make sense to set up information tables at supermarkets where the taxes are paid.

I believe almost every apartment in my BHP complex would qualify for this rebate. BHP has dozens of properties. Hundreds of its residents in most of its properties would probably qualify for this program. I personally delivered FTR forms to every apartment in my complex and I 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 these types of actions.

Even if I did get help, there is another problem. Individuals and families must prove that they have lived in Boulder for all of 2021 to qualify for the FTR. How many people will be excluded from the FTR because of this calendar-year residency requirement?
Anyone who has lived in Boulder for a while knows that many leases in Boulder start during the summer to coincide with the CU school year. In my almost thirty years living in Boulder, I have always had leases that start and end during the summer months. New residents of Boulder are shut out of the program even though they paid food taxes a large part of the year.

I have asked city council members to extend the deadline to allow for a renewed push to get this money to the people who qualify. This was done a couple of years ago when the Federal government and state pushed back their tax filing deadlines. My request was denied.

Council is exploring new programs to fund such as piloting a basic income scheme and an e-bike rebate (Editor’s note: Exploration of e-bike rebates is on hold until staff finishes current projects). Why put so much effort into new programs when we are not even successfully marketing the ones we have?

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

Finally, please help to get the word out about this program to people who you know who might qualify for it. These people could really use this money.

Timothy Thomas is a longtime resident of Boulder


Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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