Navajo lawmakers approve junk food tax

AP News
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Posted: Nov 15, 2014 2:09 PM

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation Council approved a tax on junk food sold on the country's largest reservation, tribal officials announced Friday.

Lawmakers voted 10-4 on the last day of a two-day special session Friday to impose a 2 percent sales tax on items such as cookies, chips and sodas. If signed into law by President Ben Shelly, the "Healthy Dine Nation Act of 2014" would remain in effect until 2020.

American Indians and Alaska Natives as a whole have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among U.S. racial and ethnic groups, according to the American Diabetes Association.

According to the proposal, the revenue generated by the new tax would go into a Community Wellness Development Projects Fund. The Navajo Nation Division of Community Development would channel the funds to various projects among the nation's 110 chapters. The projects would include farmers' markets, vegetable gardens and exercise equipment. The Dine Community Advocacy Alliance estimated a junk-food tax would result in at least $1 million a year in revenue.

The Tribal Council previously failed to pass the legislation in April and Shelly vetoed the measure earlier this year. In the past, Shelly said he supports the proposal's intent but questioned how the higher tax on snacks high in fat, sugar and salt would be enacted and regulated. Supporters say the tax is another tool in their fight for the health of the people. Advocates such as the Dine Community Advocacy Alliance vowed to revive it.

"The Healthy Dine Nation Act is the beginning of addressing the dominate culture of unhealthy foods on our Navajo Nation, while creating opportunity for health and wellness initiatives across all chapters," group member Denisa Livingston said in a statement.

Shelly has 10 days to consider approved legislation once the resolution is sent to his office.

Native Americans are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have the disease that was the fourth leading cause of death in the Navajo area from 2003 to 2005, according to the Indian Health Service. Native children ages 10 to 19 are nine times as likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the IHS said.

The proposed tax wouldn't add significantly to the price of junk food, but buying food on the reservation presents obstacles that don't exist in most of urban America. The reservation is a vast 27,000 square miles with few grocery stores and a population with an unemployment rate of around 50 percent. Thousands of people live without electricity and have no way of storing perishable food items for too long.


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