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Berkeley Collects First Funds from Soda Tax


Last November, reported on a measure passed in Berkeley, California, that made the city the first in the U.S. to impose a per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.

As a refresher, Berkeley’s Measure D created a one cent tax per ounce on sugary drinks including sodas, iced teas and energy drinks. San Francisco also had a measure on the ballot at the same time, which the majority of voters supported, but it did not pass by the required two-thirds margin.

A panel of nine experts from across various fields and areas of expertise have been nominated by city council members to make recommendations on how the city should spend the funds. Two of the members, Jennifer Browne and Leader Xavier Morales, were chosen to lead the panel. Browne, the chair of the panel, is a parent and health activist who helped spearhead the campaign for the legislation. Morales, the vice chair, is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

Though the Berkeley law went into effect on January 1, 2015, the city just started collecting the revenues in April. The Berkeley City Council announced recently that that revenues for the first month totaled $116,000—an amount that puts them well on track toward their projected $1.2 million for the first year.

“The tax is working,” Morales said. “I’m really excited that what we were projecting is coming to fruition.”

The revenue from the soda tax goes into the a fund called the Healthy Families Fund, out of which various local organizations and initiatives will be given grants for their work to prevent chronic diseases related to the overconsumption of liquid sugar. The job of the panel is to identify programs that would benefit from financial help, after which the city council will make the final decision on where the money is directed.

“These funds are resources that are going to be made available to our residents for nutrition education and school and community based activities,” said Morales. “With these funds we can really start to help people understand what it means to eat nutritionally and make healthier choices.”

The types of initiatives that could benefit from this funding vary greatly, and include everything from school nutrition programs to local farmers markets, food distribution sites and help for food deserts—or possibly a mix of multiple initiatives.

“The city is very invested in making sure that this money goes to the right causes and trying to figure out ways to help move this forward,” said Morales. “I’m excited to see what creative, innovative collaborations can emerge from this type of fund.”

The city has been so impressed by the initial revenue that the city council has decided to invest $500,000 in the Healthy Families Fund so that initiatives can begin sooner. That money will be paid back through future revenues of the tax.

 “I’m looking forward to Berkeley being the model for this moving forward,” said Morales. “Everyone is watching us right now, and we are determined to be successful.”

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