Sales tax holidays are great for those who can afford it, useless for those who can’t

David Dam

In Texas, people don’t like taxes, and any form of tax exemption is good news for everyone. The Emergency Preparation Supplies Sales Tax Holiday, which begins on April 23, exempts emergency supplies from the sales tax. While encouraging Texans to be more prepared for disaster situations is good, this sales tax holiday may not truly increase the access of emergency supplies for Texans.

The importance of emergency supplies should never be discarded. Especially with this week’s severe weather throughout Texas — where Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in nine counties — emergencies occur unexpectedly. Any preparations beforehand can greatly mitigate the extent of any disaster for Texans.

Unfortunately, many are not adequately prepared for emergencies. A study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency noted that only around half of the individuals in the study reported having emergency supplies available during a disaster, and around one-third reported updating these supplies at least once a year.

A sales tax holiday for certain emergency supplies may seem like a great idea to incentivize people to purchase them. However, not all emergency supplies are subject to tax-exemptions — only certain items under certain price levels qualify, and many supplies are not covered, such as repairs or replacement parts.

Even for items that do qualify, the savings amount to less than seven percent, a sale that no business seems likely to advertise. Buying items without the sales and use tax in Texas only saves around $8 for every $100 spent.

But this sales tax holiday assumes that people have extra money lying around to spend on the occasion. Those with lower incomes — who are sometimes more likely to live in disaster-prone areas — are less likely to be prepared for disasters.

Alicia Assini, an Iberian and Latin American languages and linguistics graduate student, said those with strained finances will not be focused on any type of emergency preparation.

“I guess [sales tax holidays] would be a motivation but as a grad student I don’t have money to spare on anything,” Assini said in an email. “[M]any Americans are worrying more about the food they need for that week or month or how to pay medical bills, and this doesn’t leave too much time to stress about a potential future disaster when they have far more pressing daily concerns that are real and tangible in front of them.”

Despite the government’s intent, consumer purchases are not significantly impacted by sales tax holidays, minimizing the economic impact of these sales tax holidays. While encouraging people to buy emergency supplies ahead of time is good, this is limited to a small number of people who can afford it.

While the government may feel that exempting certain items from the sales tax for a period of time will increase its consumption, this approach is not reaching everyone. Texas needs to reconsider its sales tax holidays and figure out a better solution to make essential goods, like emergency supplies, more accessible to all members of the public.

Dam is a linguistics and Spanish freshman from Austin. Follow him on Twitter @daviddamwrite.