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HARTFORD, CT — A progressive advocacy group is recommending the Connecticut General Assembly consider a tax on sugary beverages in order to fund a welfare-to-work program that subsidizes child care for low-income families.

The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee agreed to raise the concept of a sugary beverage tax, but has yet to schedule a public hearing.

Connecticut Voices for Children estimates a tax on sugary beverages would bring in about $85 million a year. The estimate is based on 2015 legislation that called for a tax of one cent on each fluid ounce of soda sold.

The $85 million in revenue, is far more than the $33 million Connecticut needed to fully fund the program this year. 

As of the end of February, the wait list for the program had grown to 3,000 children and is expected to increase to 5,000 by the summer. Due to federal changes in the program last year, the state decided to close enrollment to most families and simply continue to fund the child already receiving care.

“Connecticut families already face some of the highest child care costs in the nation, with an average annual price tag of $13,880 for infant child care,” Connecticut Voices for Children said. 

To put that in perspective, child care costs more than one year of in-state tuition at one of Connecticut’s public universities and just slightly less than a year of rent, based on average housing costs across the state.

About 30 percent of children under five in families with one or more working parents qualify for Care 4 Kids due to their parents’ low income. Among young children of single parents, about 50 percent of children qualify.

“Without subsidies, many families who are unable to afford licensed child care must reduce their working hours, leave work altogether, or leave their children in unsafe settings,” a Connecticut Voices for Children policy brief states. “Any one of these ‘choices’ leaves families at great risk.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn’t offer families any help. In fact his two-year budget cuts funding for the program by about $14.5 million over the next two years causing a potential shortfall of about $42 million in 2018 and $48 million in 2019. That’s why Connecticut Voices for Children is calling on lawmakers to consider a tax on sugary beverages as a way to fund the program.

“Assuring access to high-quality child care is one of the smartest commitments a state can make, helping parents return to work and creating a sound foundation for children’s healthy development,” Ellen Shemitz, Connecticut Voices for Children’s executive director, said. “Research shows that quality early childhood education programs can dramatically improve long-term educational outcomes. If we are serious about creating educational opportunity for all children, if we are serious about investing in workforce development, and if we are serious about supporting working parents and a more resilient and inclusive economy, then we cannot afford to shutter the doors of child care providers.”

But not everybody agrees with the idea of the tax.

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman with the American Beverage Association, said these sugary beverage tax proposals have been defeated 43 times since 2008.

She said in Philadelphia where a 1.5 cent, per ounce tax on sweetened beverages went into effect on Jan. 1 there was broad sticker shock.

In the first few weeks of the tax, people who could afford to leave the city to buy their beverages did and those who could least afford the tax were stuck paying it, Kane said.

As far as fighting obesity, she said states with long standing taxes on these types of beverages like West Virginia and Arkansas have some of the highest obesity rates in the country, so to say you’re levying the tax to reduce childhood obesity is a farce.

Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, who was one of the main proponents of the tax in 2015, said in February that he believes adding an additional tax to sugary beverages will deter people from consuming it.

“It helps change that behavior,” Candelaria said. “And I think we’ll have a healthier population in our state.”

He admitted that it is a regressive tax and it targets the poor who are more likely to consume these beverages because they are often cheaper than a bottle of water.

“The goal is to make people more healthy,” Candelaria said.