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Birmingham City Council approves food tax rebate program

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(From left) Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan F. Austin

By Monique Jones

The Birmingham Times

(From left) Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan F. Austin
(From left) Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan F. Austin

Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan Austin said this week they are both pleased to begin steps to offer a Healthy Food Incentive Program, a food tax rebate initiative, for residents.

Low-income residents, the elderly and the disabled can apply for food cards by Aug. 1, with enrollment open between April 15 and June 30, Residents who apply for the program must either be at or below the poverty level or currently enrolled in either Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women Infants Children (WIC).

“…I need to thank my staff and law department staff who literally worked 24/7 to find a workable solution to make this rebate program a reality,” said Bell, adding that he asked the city’s law department to “move forward with adding the item to the agenda and find a way to make it work.”

“…We are in the beginning stages of figuring out how to do this sort of program in Birmingham . . . anything that we can do to ease the burden on these families is worth trying,” he said.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have been a full-time resident of the city for a year. Those who are a part of the program would receive a tax rebate between $50 to $150 a year. Residents aged 65 and older will also be eligible to receive an additional $25 household senior citizen allowance.

Austin, who presented the original draft of the program last year, said he and the council have been working on the project despite suffering setbacks including “going back and forth with the [city] law department” and after many delays.

The council, he said, was persistent.

“…I’m very excited to say that after all of the setbacks we received by trying to help those that need help the most, we still were able to push through and bring this project to reality,” he said.

The next step, Austin said, is a request for proposal “within the next 45 days” and within the next 60 days, “have the program set up and go with the goal of having it fully funded within the next fiscal year,” he said.

Bell said he looks forward to “implementing the program and working with staff and the City Council to come up with a model that will work . . .  within the parameters of the state laws and hopefully line up with what will be proposed at a state level.”

The city’s food tax rebate program follows Governor Robert Bentley’s plan to remove sales tax on food for low-income and fixed-income families, which he announced during his 2017 State of the State address in February.

The Birmingham Business Journal and the Associated Press contributed to this report.