The ‘Food Tax’ Dilemma: States That Still Tax Groceries

The ‘Food Tax’ Dilemma: States That Still Tax Groceries


Food is a fundamental necessity, and the cost of groceries can significantly impact a family’s budget. To make the challenge of putting food on the table more manageable, some states in the United States have chosen to exempt groceries from sales tax. However, not all states have adopted this approach. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of the “food tax” and highlight the states that still tax groceries, shedding light on the complexities and consequences of these policies.

  1. The Burden of Sales Tax on Groceries

Sales tax is typically applied to the purchase of goods and services, and its rate can vary significantly from state to state. When sales tax is imposed on groceries, it can place an additional financial burden on households, especially those with lower incomes. Families often have limited flexibility when it comes to food spending, and taxing groceries can reduce their purchasing power.

  1. States That Exempt Groceries from Sales Tax

As of 2022, many states have chosen to exempt groceries from sales tax to alleviate the financial strain on their residents. States like Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York have implemented full sales tax exemptions on groceries, providing relief to consumers. These exemptions are seen as a way to promote access to affordable food and reduce the impact of taxes on essential goods.

  1. States That Still Tax Groceries

However, not all states have adopted a policy of exempting groceries from sales tax. Several states continue to impose sales tax on groceries to varying degrees. These states include:

Alabama: Alabama applies a reduced sales tax rate of 4% on groceries, making it one of the states with the lowest grocery tax rates.

Arkansas: Arkansas levies a 1.5% sales tax on groceries, making it one of the most tax-friendly states for grocery shoppers.

Hawaii: Hawaii has a unique system where groceries are subject to a General Excise Tax (GET), which can vary by jurisdiction but is generally around 4%. While the GET applies to groceries, it is not calculated on a statewide sales tax basis.

South Dakota: South Dakota imposes a state sales tax of 4.5% on groceries, although some local jurisdictions may levy additional taxes.

Mississippi: Mississippi has a reduced sales tax rate of 7% on groceries, aimed at making food more affordable for its residents.

Idaho: Idaho has a sales tax rate of 6% on groceries, which can be offset by a grocery credit available to low-income individuals.

  1. The Challenges of Taxing Groceries

Taxing groceries can lead to a variety of challenges. First, it disproportionately affects lower-income individuals and families who spend a more significant portion of their income on food. This regressive tax structure can hinder access to nutritious meals and exacerbate food insecurity.

Additionally, taxing groceries can lead to complex systems where certain food items are taxed while others are exempt, creating confusion for both consumers and businesses. States that choose to tax groceries often implement exemptions or credits for specific items like unprepared food, prescription drugs, or baby formula.

  1. Advocacy for Change

In states that tax groceries, there is often a push for reform. Advocacy groups, lawmakers, and concerned citizens argue for reducing or eliminating the “food tax” to improve the economic well-being of residents, particularly those facing financial hardship.

  1. Balancing Budgets and Priorities

For states that continue to tax groceries, the revenue generated can be essential for funding critical government programs and services. Striking a balance between raising necessary revenue and ensuring access to affordable food is a challenge faced by policymakers.


The “food tax” remains a topic of debate and concern in the United States. While many states have chosen to exempt groceries from sales tax to alleviate financial burdens on their residents, several states still impose taxes on food purchases. The complexities and consequences of these policies underscore the need for thoughtful consideration by lawmakers, balancing the requirements of state budgets with the well-being of their citizens. Advocacy for change and reform continues to be a driving force in the effort to make groceries more accessible and affordable for all.


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