State advises stores to temporarily ban reusable bags, but Chicago’s single-use bag tax remains

State advises stores to temporarily ban reusable bags, but Chicago’s single-use bag tax remains

Illinois’ grocery stores have told shoppers to leave their reusable bags at home to stop COVID-19’s spread. Chicago’s 7-cent bag tax will continue unless the law is changed.

As coronavirus cases continue to climb throughout Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new guidelines on March 28 for grocery stores and shoppers. Among the recommendations was that shoppers no longer use reusable bags to protect both cashiers and shoppers from spreading the virus.

Although Chicago shoppers have no choice but to use plastic or paper bags through at least April 30, they will still be paying the city’s 7-cent tax on each bag they take. The mayor’s office said legislative action is required to repeal the tax.

The stores have been granted an extension on when they must pay the tax to the city. The normal due dates of March 15 and April 15 have been moved back to April 30. Stores keep 2 cents from the tax, but pay the other 5 cents to the city. Those nickels generate over $5 million in bag tax revenue each year.

Chicago’s bag tax took effect on Feb. 1, 2017, and has been hurting low-income shoppers and adding to the city’s tax burden on residents. Shoppers already suffer through the nation’s highest combined state and local sales tax at 10.25%. With more residents unable to receive a paycheck because of social distancing guidelines, the continued collection of single-use bag taxes hits shoppers especially hard.

While the city will continue to collect this fee, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is suspending collection of traffic fees until April 30 to ease the economic burden on residents. Drivers will not immediately have to pay for late parking tickets, towing fees or red-light camera tickets. The city will also suspend its “booting” system.

Statewide, Pritzker announced the deadline for filing state income taxes has been pushed back to July 15 to stay in line with the new date for federal income taxes. The delay on tax and fee collections is designed to soften the economic impact of the pandemic.

In addition to the new guidelines about bags in grocery stores, the state is urging stores to take other precautionary measures. These include reminding customers through signs and markings on the floor to keep a distance of six feet apart from other people, placing plastic shields in front of cashiers, encouraging curbside pickup and cashless purchases.

Illinois has seen 5,994 cases of COVID-19 as of March 31, which includes 99 deaths. Outbreaks at Stateville Correctional Center, senior apartment complexes in Taylorville and Carol Stream and even within the Chicago Police Department add to the virus’ severe toll on Illinois. Pritzker extended the state-at-home order through April 30.

While bag taxes may curb litter, at least one study found them to have the smallest environmental impact of the shopping bag alternatives. They also pose an ongoing tax on the poor. Chicago should drop its bag tax, or at least figure out a mechanism allowing it to stop collecting the tax during the pandemic.

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