I am dedicated to finding new ways to reduce living expenses for working families. Besides housing, perhaps the largest consumables expense in a family’s budget is for groceries. According to a United States Department of Agriculture report, between the years 2012 and 2016 food costs were the third largest inflationary increase Americans faced right behind housing and health care. The “all items” inflationary figure for the period was 4.5% and food rose disproportionately at 6.1%.
During the same period, the Bureau of Wage Statistics reports that wages rose a mere 2.3% for private industry workers in 2016 and 2.1% in 2015.
Affordable, healthy food is an issue that affects all people but workers especially. In rural communities and increasingly in urban communities Community Supported Agriculture organizations, or CSAs, are developing to fill some of the gaps in the need for affordable, healthy food. Generally, a CSA is an organization that grows a variety of food crops on a small scale and occasionally produces other foods, such as farm fresh eggs. Subscribers will pay for “shares” to a CSA for a set price which covers the CSA’s operating costs. A share then entitles the subscriber to a set portion of the productive capacity of the CSA on a weekly or a bi-weekly basis. What a subscriber gets depends on the season, how well the crops are producing, and how many other subscribers are participating in the SCA.
Surprisingly, there is little in the way of federal support to encourage the development of CSAs in communities that do not currently have them and support CSAs where they are already established. Generally a membership fee to become a member of a not-for-profit organization that runs a CSA would be tax deductible but share costs are not. Further, if the CSA is not organized as a not-for-profit and does not qualify as a tax-exempt organization for whatever reason, nothing that is contributed is tax deductible.
One of the first things I would do when I get to Washington is to introduce legislation to amend the Internal Revenue Code to (a) reduce the barriers for CSAs to seek tax-exemption status; (b) provide a deduction from personal income tax for contributions made to CSAs regardless of whether the contribution is in exchange for shares of food or not, and (c) provide a financial structure to encourage the development of CSAs in urban areas through tax credits and to encourage existing rural CSAs to serve urban areas through tax deductions.
CSAs, I believe, are a direct way we as Americans can work to eliminate food insecurity in America.