The month of June — June 16, to be exact — marks the fourth anniversary of the Philadelphia City Council voting 13-4 in favor of Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposal to tax sweetened beverages. This victory made Philadelphia the first major U.S. city to pass such a tax. Funding from the tax revenue supports the improvement of places where young children grow and learn through pre-kindergarten programs, and also where families can be active together like parks and recreation centers.
As one of the leading organizations advocating for the “Philly Beverage Tax,” the American Heart Association Philadelphia rallied its volunteers and created a public campaign in support of the cause and most importantly, highlighted the critical impact it would have on the community. AHA Philadelphia also equipped councilmembers with science-based information as resources and gave public testimony, highlighting the city’s ranking as one of the highest with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity among large cities in the U.S.
Because of the Philly Beverage Tax revenue, children who were once unable to enroll in pre-K can now attend at no cost, increasing their school readiness and creating a lasting impact on their lives. During the 2019-2020 school year, PHLpreK served over 6,000 children and currently funds seats in 138 locations citywide. The program grew nearly 50% this past school year and continues to grow.
More information about PHLpreK’s impact can be found here. Some of the program’s key wins include:
- 96% enrollment for 3,300 funded seats as of January 2020
- 350 jobs created since the program’s launch in January 2017
- Higher state quality ratings (Keystone STARS) for 39 providers since 2017
- 93% of surveyed families would recommend PHLpreK to other families, and 93% report their child is better prepared for kindergarten
The positive impact of the Philly Beverage Tax continues to be felt in local communities. In addition to funding early childhood education, this legislation supports hundreds of millions of dollars in the Rebuild initiative designed to improve community facilities such as parks, recreation centers, and libraries. The city has already broken ground on two sites over the past two years.
Here’s a look back at the signature legislation’s timeline:
- June 16, 2016: Philadelphia City Council voted 13-4 in favor of Mayor Kenney’s proposal to tax sweetened beverages. Philadelphia becomes the first major U.S. city to pass such a tax.
- July 2016: First cohort of 9 community schools funded by the beverage tax announced
- October 16, 2016: The city announces initial pre-K providers and opens enrollment for seats funded by the beverage tax
- January 1, 2017: The Philadelphia Beverage Tax is implemented.
- November 2017: First 61 parks, recreation centers, and libraries chosen for Rebuild initiative.
- November 2018: Rebuild announces second round of Rebuild sites including parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers.
- December 2018: Groundbreaking of first Rebuild site at Parkside revitalizing athletic fields.
- July 2019: First Rebuild site ribbon-cutting at Fishtown Recreation Center.
- November 2019: Mayor Kenney awarded by American Heart Association with first America @ Heart award for his community health work.
Since the beverage tax was implemented, there have been notable health impacts such as a 38% reduction of sugary drink purchases according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Philadelphians have also reduced their sugary drink consumption by 1.3 billion ounces and counting, enough to fill more than 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
With your help, we can increase the positive impact of the Philly Beverage Tax and other policies that promote longer, healthier lives for all. If you’re interested in supporting our lifesaving mission and advocacy efforts, please consider joining our advocacy efforts or making a financial contribution.
Communications director at AHA Philadelphia who’s dedicated to being a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.