New York - NYC Bag Tax Unpopular Among Jewish City Dwellers
New York - A bill that would make New York City shoppers pay for every bag they use when making purchases may have met with majority approval in the City Council, but many area residents are giving the recently passed legislation a thumbs down.
Known as The Bag Bill, the legislation was approved yesterday by the City Council after an unusually contentious debate by a vote of 28 to 20. Councilman David Greenfield, who lobbied strongly against the bill, said it was the closest vote he has ever seen during his six years in the City Council, with emotions running high on both sides.
“I think that the reality is that this is really going to hurt a lot of people,” Greenfield told VIN News.
The Bag Bill was sponsored by Councilman Brad Lander and would levy a five cent per-bag charge on customers who use single use plastic or paper bags when shopping.
Below Video: NYC Orthodox Jewish Shoppers react to bill.
According to Lander, the legislation is intended to minimize the over 9 billion single use plastic bags that are discarded each year in New York City with more than $12.5 million spent each year to dispose of the bags. Exempted from the bill are produce, bulk food, dry cleaning, restaurant, liquor store, food pantry, soup kitchen and small paper pharmacy bags. Food purchases made using SNAP and WIC would also not be subject to the bag penalties, in order to avoid levying additional hardships on low income families.
Critics say that the bill unfairly targets families who are already experiencing financial hardships.
“There is no question that this is a regressive tax,” said Greenfield. “While it is true that if you are actually using a food stamp card you are exempt, the reality is that food stamps were not intended to cover 100 percent and those people, when they run out of benefits, will have to pay the plastic and paper bag tax when they are the hardest hit.”
The program would also make things extremely difficult for those who don’t qualify for government assistance and are already struggling to make ends meet.
“I will never forget when I would go to the grocery and the people in front of me would be checking out and realizing that the total was too expensive and they would have to return one or two items. The idea that we are adding a dollar or two, for a piece of legislation that won’t even achieve what the sponsors say it will achieve, is problematic,” noted Greenfield.
Having studied cities that already have bag taxes in place, Greenfield said that the results have been disappointing and questioned why paper bags were also included in the bill.
“Paper bags should have been encouraged,” said Greenfield. “They are 100 percent biodegradable.”
Councilman Chaim Deutsch was another council member who voted against the Bag Bill.
“This is a tax on low income residents,” said Deutsch. “There are other ways to protect the environment and to reduce the number of bags. You can educate people about the importance of protecting the environment but taxing isn’t the way to go.”
Deutsch also noted that with the new legislation in place, he expected many more people to have their purchases delivered in boxes, which would only increase double parking, traffic and pollution in the city. Those who elect to bring their purchases home in reusable bags would likely find them bulkier and more difficult to manage, particularly problematic for senior citizens and those shopping with small children, according to Deutsch.
“This is not only a tax on people but a hardship,” said Deutsch.
State Senator Simcha Felder, who voiced his opposition to a similar plan under the Bloomberg administration several years ago, noted that many people reuse plastic shopping bags and said that the reusable bags, which often contain residue from previous purchases, including juices fish and meat, pose a health risk.
“The CDC talked about the health hazards of bringing bags back to the store,” said Felder. “They found significant increases in health related risks once people were bringing the bags back. You never bring soda bottles back into the store for exactly the same reason. It is a health hazard and can bring rodents.”
A 2012 article in the Los Angeles Times linked reusable shopping bags that were found to be contaminated with norovirus to an outbreak of diarrhea, vomiting and nausea that swept through a girls’ soccer team, also affecting parents and relatives.
According to a Breitbart article, multiple studies have found the bags to be tainted with bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, fecal coliform and norovirus. A University of Arizona study examined 84 reusable bags obtained from shoppers in three cities that banned plastic bags and found more than half hosted harmful bacteria, with contaminated bags kept in a car trunk for more than two hours containing significantly higher bacteria levels.
John Schaefer, a spokesperson to Councilman Lander dismissed the notion that the bags were dangerous.
“Every time a city passes a single-use bag reduction bill, the plastic bag industry and their supporters falsely claim that reusable bags are unsafe,” said Schaefer. “Independent analysts like Consumer Reports have debunked these reports. “
“All New Yorkers will start bringing reusable bags to avoid the fee, and together we will drastically cut back on the number of bags we use,” said Schaefer.
Felder, who professed to reusing the bags in his own home, has already passed a bill through the Senate’s Cities Committee that would prohibit any city in New York from imposing a fee on plastic bags, which would effectively quash the New York City bill. He hopes that the bill will come to a vote on the Senate floor before the current session ends in June and is cautiously optimistic that it will pass.
“The Bag Bill is not a popular bill,” said Felder. “Environmentalists and the most liberal wealthy districts in the city are saving the world on our backs. They are literally nickel and diming people to death.”
Assemblyman Michael Cusik who is sponsoring a companion bill in the Assembly said that while he understands that the legislation was created with the best of intentions, it is unfair to middle class families.
“There could be other ways to get what they want,” said Cusik. “One example might be giving a tax credit incentive to businesses who phase in a program that at some point might eliminate bags. Give a positive program to result in cutting plastic bags but going at it and penalizing consumers and residents of the city is not the way to go about it.”
Proponents of the bill say that it is all about educating consumers.
Greenfield took umbrage at those who insisted that if consumers began carrying a reusable bag in their pockets, they would have no problem adjusting to the new legislation.
“You are one person, who is single, without any kids, you eat out every day, you go shopping once a week,” said Greenfield. “You buy half a dozen eggs and a half a gallon of milk. In communities like mine we have people who have six, seven, eight, nine, ten kids. What are they supposed to do, store 50 reusable bags in their house?”
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