Op-Ed: Meals Tax Would Place Burden on Low Income Residents

by RestonNow.com October 28, 2016 at 11:30 am 44 Comments

Burger at The Counter/Courtesy of The CounterThis is an op-ed submitted by George Mason University student Jalen Stubblefield. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I grew up in Alexandria, VA and have lived here the vast majority of my life. I graduated from Edison High School in 2012, and will graduate from George Mason University this December. I am a Democrat and I oppose the Fairfax County Meals Tax. Here is why.

First and foremost, I understand that enrollment in schools has risen, and that teachers are severely underpaid. I understand the important role public education plays in America, ensuring that every child that works hard has the opportunity to succeed. What I do not understand is a Meals Tax.

Attending school at Edison, I had a number of friends that were growing up without parents in their household. No, the parents had not left them. They were working from early in the morning, sometimes before school started, to late at night, sometimes long after their children had slept.

Take my friend, we’ll call him Josh, his parents would drop him off long before school began, and he would walk home in the afternoon because his parents were working. For food, he was on the free-and-reduced meals program, and his parents would give him $5 for dinner since there was no time for them to cook during the week.

Josh’s story is typical. According to a report by the Commonwealth Institute,  8 percent of school-age children are growing up in poverty and 28 percent are on the free-and-reduced meals program.

Some are growing up in single-parent homes, or homes where both parents work and often times are required to eat out. Many families do not have the luxury of having a “stay home parent” anymore that can ensure that a home cooked meal is prepared for dinner. But families do have hard-working parents, who labor many hours a day, doing everything possible to ensure that their children are taken care of.

This is the reality for many residents in the county, but is ignored because Fairfax is labeled affluent. That label ignores the wealth gap. According to the 2010 Census, the per capita income of Fairfax County was $36,888, but the per capita income of McLean, one of the wealthiest areas, was $87,073. However, on the other side of the county, in Hybla Valley, the per capita income is $32,486.

It is important to note that the definition of poverty is uniform across the United States, while the cost of living is not. This means that while there are only 65,000 people living in poverty, half of which are children, that the number of people struggling to make a living is significantly higher.

Most Americans would agree that the government spends wastefully at all levels (how much is up for debate), however people already struggling to make a living do not have money to spend wastefully. For some, a meals tax would not increase the cost of food, but decrease the amount of food on their plates.

If the county is as desperate for money as they claim, there are other ways to increase revenue. According to a report by the Commonwealth institute, a one-cent increase in the property tax rate can raise nearly 22 million dollars. Not only would it generate revenue and affect all residents evenly, but it could also be written off in Federal taxes, negating the increase for some. Nobody should go hungry, but that would be the tough reality for some if this tax were to pass.

Jalen Stubblefield


  • VATaxpayer

    Hate to sound harsh, but it is primarily the parental responsibility for ensuring you can provide for your own offspring, not society’s responsibility for it. Move to a lower cost of living area so your income can go further, if possible, utilize birth control…actions have consequences – take ownership.

    • Scott H

      This hits the nail on the head. Poverty programs long ago decoupled finances from the decision to procreate. In many cases, they actually create an incentive to have children.

      Furthermore, you hit on the quintessential distinction that should be discussed in any of these debates. While it is certainly tear-jerking to see a child/person/dog in need of help, ask yourself the question.
      How much of your income should you be forced to pay to feed/clothe someone else’s child, before you can take what is left to begin trying to feed and clothe your own?
      You can extend this question to paid parental leave or any other “necessity” someone deems essential in today’s society. It’s easy to say that people should have time at home with their baby, but if I’m a business owner, how long should I be forced to pay someone to not work(ie add value to my business) before I can take what is left to begin to pay the other expenses of my business?

      Honest questions in a debate that often descends into the demonization of anyone that questions the validity of confiscating the property of one person for the benefit of someone else deemed more worthy by government.

      • Mike M

        Jalen is questioning this “confiscation of property.” VATax demonized him. He is against the meals tax. Did you read?

        • Scott H

          Did you read?
          Jalen likes property taxes, but not a meals tax. He isn’t against confiscation in general, just on prepared food b/c it’s regressive. He appears to be fine with progressive confiscation.

          VA’s comment had nothing to do with the meals tax and was questioning Jalen’s inference that’s it’s society’s job to provide for children. My comment built on VA’s comment.

          And no one was demonized. Geez.

          • Mike M

            VATax demonized him as someone who eschewed personal responsibility. That is far off the mark. His main point was people who are working hard to make it on their own will be unduly burdened by this tax. I agree!

          • Just say no already

            I agree. The rest is mindless chatter.

          • Scott H

            portray as wicked and threatening.

            I guess your threshold for the demonization is much lower than mine…or the dictionary’s.

          • Mike M

            I guess you were numb to the vitriol in VAT’s response.

          • Jalen LS

            I want to clarify. I said that the government spends wastefully at all levels and that people don’t have money to waste. Which should imply that I don’t believe the government should collect more money when it is not using the money responsibly that it has. However, I don’t know enough about the county budget to tell them that they’re spending wastefully and to reign it in like I do the federal government.

            I would prefer a property tax, if forced to pick between the two. But I strongly believe that the government has a RESPONSIBILITY to ensure that every dollar is being used as effectively as possible before we ask the people for more of their hard earned money that they themselves are using effectively.

          • Scott H

            If what you say about your beliefs is true, they are in direct opposition to the Democratic party, which believes a government program and more spending is always the answer, despite 50+ years poor results and wastefulness. As you get older, you should take a hard look at where your belief sysremt aligns. That said, congrats on getting involved at a young age and writing a coherent opinion piece.

      • vdiv

        Luke 3:11

        • Mike M

          Luke 3:13, jack-o-lantern!
          THAT one is about tax. Yours is about personal choice. Funny how you missed that.

          • vdiv

            All of our actions are of personal choice.

          • Mike M

            No. You are wrong. Taxation and certain other compliance is coerced.

          • vdiv

            You can decide to:
            a) change the law
            b) break the law
            c) avoid the law

          • Mike M

            I’ve decided to change it. Whoops! Not my call!

        • Scott H

          Your fallacy vdiv is that Luke 3:11 preaches CHARITY and giving EXTRA to others in need.
          The Government CONFISCATING taxes under the threat of law BEFORE citizens have a chance to provide for themselves in neither voluntary nor charity.

          NEVER confuse taxation and a government program with charity. Never!

          • vdiv

            You were asking so I gave you an answer.

          • Nun ya

            This is exactly correct.

        • Nun ya

          That’s your bible, not mine, and it should have nothing to do with this discussion.

    • Mike M

      Did you even read what Jalen wrote? He makes plain that the tax is regressive which is the opposite of what proponents have said. We have seen it in here, people talk about steaks at Morton’s. On the contrary I did not see one place where Jalen said anything about society taking responsibility for anyone’s offspring. He cites cases where parents are taking responsibility!

      Bravo, Jalen. You might want to consider declaring independence from the Democratic Party now that you plainly see the dark side. Consider Independent status!

      Sometimes, the more cogent and irrefutable your point, the nastier the responses get.

  • RickDotSalt

    I don’t agree with the “required to eat out” stance being proposed here. Unless a parent is working 24 hours a day there is time to cook. It takes organization and planning but you can prepare a week’s worth of meals for your child to heat up that would ensure they are eating a healthy meal instead of given them money to make their own choice.

    • Mike M

      Our lifestyle is not the government’s business. We shouldn’t be taxed for simple non-obtrusive choices. Why do you L-words always want to tell people how to live?

      • RickDotSalt

        As usual, you are the Ty Cobb of missing the point. I was not arguing for or against the tax nor dictating what one should do in that situation. Simply the narrative of having no other choice than to eat out is not true.

        • Mike M

          “Ty Cobb of missing the point.” Brilliant!
          Earth to Rick: Ty Cobb had the highest batting average of all time. That’s about HITTING, not missing. So who is off target?
          So, you are saying they should adjust their lifestyle to avoid the tax? Are you saying they should live like you? You missed the point. The man is right. It is a regressive tax. Vote NO on the meals tax for this and many other good reasons.

      • Scott H

        Correction Mike. Liberals demand the freedom for people to live any way they choose…as long as they don’t disagree with it.

        • Mike M

          The why would it matter that someone buys their kids lunch pr makes it. It doesn’t. No L-words want to dictate.

    • tammipetrine

      Rick, are you aware that the Meals Tax extends to ALL PREPARED food regardless of where it is purchased?

      This includes grocery store salad bars, soups, sandwiches, deli dishes, etc. This I know from previous articles but perhaps it also applies to frozen prepared foods or bakery items, candies, gum, cookies, canned soups, etc.; no one has asked that question. What is the legal definition of “prepared”? Shouldn’t we know this before we vote?

      A lot of poor folk have no time or perhaps even a functioning kitchen to prepare from scratch. Ditto seniors on fixed incomes who may be compromised by age-related conditions such as mobility, poor eyesight, lack of energy, etc. and find cooking impossible. And if you have not walked in the moccasins of someone working long hours to make ends meet, please withhold judgement about cooking habits. Many of these folks spend hours on public transportation getting around. Until you have done that in this area, you have no clue about the hours that eats up.(no pun intended.) I’d hope that a parent or individual working long hours would garner empathy for not being a drag on society vs. judgment for not cooking from scratch.

      Bigger Question: Why didn’t Fairfax County exclude grocery store prepared items? I can see both sides of this debate but taxing grocery store prepared foods seems grossly unwise and unfair.

      Congrats to Jalen for a fine letter which brings up new points to this important debate. Jalen, I wish you well after graduation. Thanks for sharing.

      • RickDotSalt

        Thanks for your comment and I am aware of the points you have raised about what is taxed. I grew up in a family much like that of “Josh” including periods of homelessness so I am all too familiar with the scenario that you portray. We learned to cook, sometimes by crude methods and not always delicious, as that made our money go farther. I remember buying my sister a $1 dress at a thrift store and that being the nicest item of clothing she had. I know what it’s like riding the bus and walking to the store. I remember a gallon of milk busting on my old bike as a teen (that someone ironically stole) as I was toting it back to my family and thinking that was the end of the world. Again, my only point is that eating out is not always the best or only option for most. If you choose to or are truly limited by your circumstances, this will undoubtedly impact you.

        • tammipetrine

          Thanks, Rick. My hat is off to you and your family. I hear what you are saying and respect your view.

      • John Higgins

        Tammi, you raise a good point in that the description of food to be taxed has been (ahem) less that fully described. One shouldn’t have to search for such basic info. But it can be found in Virginia Code 58.1-3833.

        If we have such a tax, it will not apply to factory-packaged items off the supermarket shelf or “prepared food” like frozen dinners, candy, gum, nuts, cookies, donuts, etc.

        It does not apply to pastry, dairy, snack foods, or foods sold in bulk. (Is this the Costco loophole?). Basically, the only taxed foods from grocery stores are those bought in the section with in-house prepared meals (the soup and sandwich operations in Safeways and the deli counter at Giant come to mind.)

        For those so deeply concerned about regressivity, note that the tax would not apply to purchases made with Food Stamps, except for prepared sandwiches and a few other read-to-eat purchases.

  • 30yearsinreston

    If parents want more of their money to.be given to FCPS there is nothing stopping them
    Just stop trying to force me to spend money on your brats

    • Tina Davenport

      And you never had children in public school?

  • AlliD

    Will the school lunches be taxes?

    • John Higgins

      No. See the link in the reply to Del.

    • Tina Davenport

      No. They are not charged a sales tax either.

  • Del Mueller

    A 4% additional tax on all prepared food in Fairfax County. I am sure the definition of “prepared foods” will be very comprehensive. So it is much more than a “meals tax.” Yeah, frozen food in a grocery store might be considered a prepared food. Certainly applies to all restaurants, fast food chains, convenience stores and the like.

    This is an expensive area to live in, and taxes on your real estate, utilities, and autos continue to rise. I am voting “NO” on the ballot. I have tightened my fiscal belt maybe FC Public Schools can do the same.

    • John Higgins

      You will be happy to see that while the definition is extensive, so too are the exemptions. I should have noted in an earlier post that this scheme of what to tax and what not to tax is not a county rodeo…it’s state law.

    • Damon Feldman

      Del, I sympathize, but it is important to know the schools have already tightened their belts. Our competitor school districts pay more, so we are losing great existing teachers, and missing out on great new ones. This article puts the lifetime earnings loss at $300,000 if a teacher chooses to work in Fairfax vs. Arlington https://www.restonnow.com/2015/12/08/study-teaching-in-fcps-a-six-figure-career-salary-sacrifice/.

      Also, teachers have tightened their belts in the first place just to be teachers. We pay about 70% of typical salary for the education level https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2016/06/20/teacher-pay-around-the-world/. If you’re in favor of the free market (like me) you know that you need to pay to hire and retain qualified people.

      I like a nice meal out as much as the next guy, but this one’s for the kids.

      • One really

        Just because another district pays at a certain price point, doesn’t mean we need to match it. The government jobs (including teachers) are paid with taxes. The tax base can’t only support so much. I doubt this statement very much.
        “but it is important to know the schools have already tightened their belts.”

        This year it’s an increase in property taxes and a meal tax (maybe). What will be the story next year? This has nothing to do with the kids, its about how high can I get teacher pay. Fairfax has a spending problem, not a revenue one.

        Also, the 300,000 is over a 30 year career, correct?

        If that same teacher lives in Fairfax what is his or her time worth? Do you really want to sit in gridlock for a hour each way? Wear and tear on a car. Extra gas money. Personally, I have taken less in my career to be closer to home and void the Metro, 267, 66, etc…. at all cost.

        If one was to move then Arlington is typically a more expensive place to live.

    • Tina Davenport

      No there are strict definitions of what is prepared. Basically, can you eat it on site. If no, it is NOT a prepared food. A sandwich at the deli counter would count so would the salad bar.
      I am voting yes, I like the idea that those in Vienna, Arlington, Fairfax City and Falls Church will pay the tax when eating in Fairfax just as I do when I eat in their jurisdiction.

  • Damon Feldman

    It’s a kind-hearted editorial, but I’m pretty sure a meals tax isn’t regressive, so the core argument is incorrect.

    When I was young and struggling to get by, I spent far less – maybe 50x less — on prepared foods. I simply did not eat out, or if I did, I went somewhere cheap. Now, I’ll pay more because I’m established and eat out a good bit, and I’m fine with that if it means the next generation has a better shot.


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