State Health Services Says Dallas Bag Ban Must Exempt Poor People from Five-Cent Fee

Categories: City Hall

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InfinityGivingCircle
Bags like this will soon cost five cents in Dallas. What happens next is anyone's guess.
If the point of a plastic bag fee is get people to stop using plastic bags, then it may not make sense to give the bags away to people who can't afford the fee, though the Texas Department of State Health Services says poor people on federal aid shouldn't have to pay for grocery bags.

A few weeks ago, the state wrote to Dallas City Hall asking if people on food assistance programs would be exempted from paying five cents for disposable bags under the city's new ordinance. If not, Dallas may be breaking the law, argued Mary Alice Winfree, a manager with the state's WIC program. (That's short for Women, Infants and Children, the federally funded program that supports low-income new moms and their kids).

"Will grocers be exempted from charging the five cent per bag fee to individuals purchasing food with WIC and SNAP benefits?" she wrote to Green Dallas, the city's office that promotes environmentally friendly initiatives.

The answer to her question is "No," though others involved with the passage of the ordinance might add, "but come on, dude."

Dallas City Council this year finally caught up to all the other eco-conscious cities that have cracked down on disposable bags. Beginning January, stores will have to charge shoppers five cents for any single-use bag, paper or plastic. Cities like Los Angeles, Boulder, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., have passed similar ordinances, but added exemptions for people on WIC or SNAP (food stamp) assistance. The Dallas ordinance does not waive the fee for poor people. If someone on food stamps forgets their reusable bag at home, then they'll have to fork over five cents for paper or plastic, and the state says that's a problem.

As Winfree's email goes on:

If not, it appears the City of Dallas ordinance may conflict with the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Federal Regulations, specifically 7 CFR Part 246.12 (c) No charge for authorized supplemental foods. The regulation states, "The State agency must ensure that participants receive their authorized supplemental food free of charge."

Winfree wrote the note on July 17. Reached by telephone Friday morning, she said she still hadn't received any answers from the city. She's not sure what will happen if the ordinance goes into effect as it stands.

Zac Trahan, program director for Texas Campaign for Environment, had been pushing for an anti-disposable bag ordnance for awhile and says earlier drafts of Dallas' law did include exemptions for SNAP and WIC shoppers. He has no idea how or why that exemption got cut out of the final draft. "A lot of people suggested to the City Council that there be exemptions for SNAP," he says.

But from a practical standpoint, the SNAP exemption may be irrelevant. Trahan points out that the city ordinance also mentions plans to give away free reusable bags.

"I think that's more important than exempting people for SNAP, because then people are still using single-use disposable bags," he says. "It's really a better solution to distribute the [reusable] bags to people who need them in the long run."

Councilman Dwaine Caraway, who spearheaded the ordinance, said he hadn't heard anything about the state's SNAP concerns. But he promises that as part of implementing the ordinance, the city will include a plan to distribute free reusable bags to all people who can't afford their own.

"I think that if we are giving bags to everyone, then there are no exemptions necessary," he says.

Grocers, retailers and bag producers have been aggressively fighting for their bags and have warmed of terrible consequences for cities that pass laws limiting their usage. Kroger, for example, has predicted that Dallasites may start Dumpster-diving for used trash bags to avoid the five cent fee.

And the Texas Retailers Association is arguing that local bag fees and bans violate the Texas Health and Safety Code. Attorney General Greg Abbott is scheduled to issue an opinion on that argument in September.

It was the president of the Texas Retailers Association who alerted the state to Dallas' possible WIC/SNAP screw-up, according to Joe Williams, the trade group's vice president.

Not all pro-trashbag people agree that shoppers on WIC and SNAP assistance should be exempt from paying five cents should they forget their reusable bags at home. A website called Fight the Plastic Bag Ban angrily writes that a low-income exemption "indirectly redistributes wealth from one class of shoppers to another, thereby creating a new benefit for WIC and SNAP participants." When you put it that way, exempting poor people from paying a small fee almost sounds like commie-bagism.

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43 comments
kduble
kduble

All of this could have been avoided by merely charging a deposit on bags like we used to do with soda bottles. People who pick up stray bags would actually reduce their grocery bills. A deposit would get people in the habit of bringing bags back to the store. Such a policy would help the poor rather than hurt them, and it would make the poor our allies in collecting litter.

GatoCat
GatoCat

"The State agency must ensure that participants receive their authorized supplemental food free of charge."

No problem. They can have the food free of charge. We're talking about plastic bags. Try to understand the difference.

rusknative
rusknative

watch the stores start a promotion...if you buy $100 worth of groceries you get FREE BAGS.....still furnish bags, uses them for sales promotion and advertising...still trash up the city and landfill........then, they will be declared a TAX like the Obamacare Mandate most likely. Retail picks up the cost, grocery costs GO UP, and the consumer pays anyway, but bags do not go away.  forgetabout it....

rusknative
rusknative

bags have advertising on them.  if you pay for them, do you get reimbursed for ad revenue posting?  what about all the big bags the charities put on your porch for donations...who pays for them....single use too.

rusknative
rusknative

funny, my yard is littered daily with plastic cups, styrofoam food cartons, cigarette butts, bottles, and alum cans as well as plastic bags from retail stores and food stores and pharmacies......This Dallas ordinance is stupid, like Obamacare, in the lack of planning for implementation and enforcement. Who is going to POLICE the individuals....the stores are RETAIL where the CUSTOM IS RIGHT.   They are not going to run off customers for some tree huggers.  get real, dallas and you bunch of liberal obama types.

dfw_maverick
dfw_maverick

If you give them free re-usable bags then they won't actually reuse the bags they will just get their free bags every time they shop

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

This is ridiculous.  Ten bags for groceries every week for a month is barely $2.30 per month.  If someone can't afford to pay that, then they have bigger problems than what kind of bags to use

We already pay tax dollars which go to the poor at the federal, state, and local levels.  Why should we also have to supplement their grocery bags? 

fed_up
fed_up

Im sorry but having been on Wic years ago and food stamps years ago before I finished my education I still would not have minded paying for the bags if needed.  I have always been an advocate for recycle reuse what we can. This is the poor just being petty. I say charge it! My god we're already giving the poor free food and rent so they can smoke and drink their food and rent money right? I no longer give to food banks anymore because the only one's you see begging for food are smoking half a pack of cigs while waiting in line for free whatever.  If they start putting down their foot on all the 'free' stuff that is handed out to the people that have vices that can be stopped and start making people responsible for their own stuff and kids the world might get a little better I think. School supplies is another. OMG people you know what the basics are going to be ie: pens, paper, pencils, a few notebooks. Buy an item a week starting in July and by the time school starts and you get 'the list' most of it will be bought. People are just plan lazy and I cant stand to be around most of them anymore anytime of year because there is always something to beg for out there because it has never came along before so you didn't know to be prepared right, ie: Christmas presents (that's not a need but some think is because dollar tree is not good enough for a 2-5 year old that's just going to break what ever it is they got) Birthday's because you forgot your kids birthday is in a week or month, Easter baskets because buying eggs with food stamps and coloring them is too much work. etc etc etc Get over it people and pay for your stupid bags.

IgnorantLibtards
IgnorantLibtards

Are the stupid freeloaders eating the plastic bags? What do they need a bag for anyway? They are just going to put everything in their stolen shopping cart that will end up littering some nearby creek. 


"The State agency must ensure that participants receive their authorized supplemental food free of charge."


How do people so incredibly moronic survive to adulthood only to be placed into positions which give them the ability to showcase their enraging level of ineptitude? 

casiepierce
casiepierce

This is what I don't understand. Aldi has a similar policy. You either bring your own reusable bags, or you pay 10 cents for their plastic bags and I think 5 cents for their paper bags. You cannot charge them to your food card. So, how can Aldi do this but not everyone else?

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I use cloth totes for groceries.  However, I still use the plastic vegetable bags for produce, then I re-use them to line the bathroom waste bucket.  So I wonder if I'm cheating, or if the produce plastic is somehow environment-friendly.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Something so simple, it seems, and Dallas has found every possible way to screw it up.  If you give away the reusable bags, they will not be reused.  The purchase, no matter how insignificant, is part of the incentive to keep reusing the bags.  Free bags = litter.  Also, how does Dallas plan to pay for all these free single-use reusable bags?  I'm pretty sure that would be a large expense to unload on the grocers, who operate on pretty thin margins anyway.  The cost would just get rolled into the overall cost of groceries.  So in the name of saving the poor $.05/bag, lets up their grocery bill a couple percent each trip.  And give them free cloth bags, that they'll forget next time.  Then throw away.

If the WIC and SNAP programs are so keen to keep their beneficiaries from having to pay a bag fee, why not make it a requirement when they pick up the vouchers (does WIC still use vouchers?), they bring in their reusable bags?  Or just give a couple reusable bags with the vouchers.


Not to be outdone, Dallas' other side of course pops in with the commie-plot hysteria.  I love this town!

stopthefoodtax
stopthefoodtax

This whole bag ban is  useless.  Its based on a report done 5 years ago.  Here are two done last month http://reason.org/files/how_green_bag_ban.pdf and http://reason.org/files/california_plastic_bag_ban.pdf Rwanda is one of the first countries to ban the bag.  Now you can go to jail for passing them out.  The whole goal is to make people use reusable bags but most people pay the fee or go without.  This is from a study where people counted people coming out of grocery stores.  The reusable bag will just replace the plastic as litter. 

Look at San Antonio, they have a real solution.

d-may
d-may

1) Plastic bags are not food
2) It's $0.05. If that was breaking someone's bank, then they would be better off melting down the nickel and selling off the nickel and copper it's made of as raw materials. 

Threeboys
Threeboys

What about the plastic bags in the produce department? Does the ban apply to them?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

The long and the short of it is, if poor people aren't effected by the tax, then it is a complete failure, because poor people are the ones doing most of the littering.  Like Montemalone said, Preston Hollow doesn't have a plastic bag problem.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Provide a penny each for each bag turned in and the City will be spotless.  Of course we will then have to deal with people breaking in and stealing plastic bags.

J_A_
J_A_

They should've thought about this in reverse. Give people incentive for bringing in plastic bags, maybe a few cents in return for each. Not really sure how many are floating around out there but at least we wouldn't have a bag problem. That is the point of the ordinance, right?

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Hmm.

There doesn't seem to be a bags blowin in the wind problem in Preston Hollow. Not a lot of SNAPs either.

Dwayne's hood, an the other hand, has both.

unclescrappy
unclescrappy

Whats the problem. The WIC & SNAP people are getting their food FREE of charge per the regulation. But if they want something to carry it in, then there is a $0.05 charge.


Seems simple enough to me

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

While it makes sense to exempt the poor from this stupid tax/penalty/theft, isnt it the poorer areas of DFW that have the greatest problem with these feral bags?

kduble
kduble

@rusknative  If your yard is littered daily with bags, then you should be supportive of the ordinance.

dd17
dd17

I used to work for Aldi. People that paid with food stamps never had a problem paying the 10¢ or 6¢ fee. So if they can pay for their bags at Aldi, I'm sure they can pay for their grocery bags at other stores too.

dd17
dd17

I used to work as a cahier for Aldi and probably about half of the customers paid with food stamps. They were still able to produce the 10¢ or 6¢ needed for the bags. Which didn't seem like a problem for them since they typically had a nicer car than me and have more expensive clothes, shoes, phones, etc than I do. If the customers chose not to pay for the bags, they were able to put their groceries in empty boxes that were laying around the store.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@casiepierce It is one thing when Aldi makes a policy like this as a private corporate entity.  It is another thing when a government entity, such as the City of Dallas, makes a law like this.

Every store could make the same policy that Aldi has, and WIC or SNAP could do or say very little about it.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@RTGolden1

In the ratio of "cost of actual thing" vs. "cost of aggregate labor + application of advanced education which also cost money + future costs we have no way of foreseeing because we're shortsighted," these plastic bags are going to be as expensive as the Oscar ceremony give-away bags.

kduble
kduble

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  I had a column in the Dallas Morning News advocating a deposit rather than a tax. It eliminates the poverty argument, because people who pick up stray bags would actually reduce their grocery bills. A deposit would make the poor allies in picking up litter.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@TPFKAP

That was my suggestion to head off global plastic-bagaggedon, charge a deposit just like so many states have done for years with beverage containers. It works.

Simple, logical, effective - but those are downsides that go against the grain of government.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

@J_A_ no profit to be made in paying people for bags..charging them on the other hand..might fill a few coffers

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@sharklasers

Where it belongs.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@TPFKAP

Anything worth anything will be swept up by the needy, we can all agree on that, but the doofi who came up with the present "solution" evidently hate poor people.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @TheRuddSki Yep. I have hosted countless clean-ups in the Trinity River floodplain and forest. One thing we NEVER picked up was aluminum cans. TONS of glass and plastic bottles though. If they had a return fee on them, they wouldn't be littering up our waterways.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@casiepierce 

I've finally found the someone to blame for that poison ivy I caught when I was reaching waaay into the Trinity River Bottoms brush for that one bottle. It's YOU! That stuff afflicted me for two weeks. 

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