Conservatives love to blame our economic woes on social safety nets, specifically Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka “food stamps.”
They have convinced large swaths of supporters and talking heads on Fox News that by cutting off “welfare” to low-income, mostly minority, Americans they are not hurting but helping by providing an incentive to work harder and stop relying on their government for “handouts.”
But when massive transnational corporations come to Congress pleading for financial assistance, or corporate welfare, there isn’t a moment’s hesitation.
The Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune, receive $6.2 billion a year in government subsidies; McDonald’s, $1.2 billion; Goldman-Sachs, $207.7 billion; JP Morgan Chase, $485.6 billion; Morgan Stanley, $115.9 billion; Bank of America, $457.1 billion; Boeing, $8.3 billion; General Electric, $2.6 billion.
This is what American taxpayers are handing these companies despite record profits.
And yet, little is being put toward employee salaries.
As myriad wealthy corporations buy back their stocks and compensate their shareholders, scores of their employees are paid such paltry wages and left no choice but to rely on government assistance to survive. This then qualifies the companies for federal reimbursement.
We need not look much further than a company with which we likely do business every day–Amazon.com.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in modern history, surpassing the $150 billion point this July, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
So why do thousands of Amazon workers still rely on public assistance?
Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders intends to do something about that.
On Wednesday, Sanders introduced the “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act,” intending to require employers with at least 500 employees to reimburse the government for the food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and other federal assistance their workers receive.
To do so, the bill calls for “a 100 percent tax on large employers equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their low-wage workers.”
Sanders’ office explained in a press release last month when the senator announced his proposed legislation:
“If an Amazon worker receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300.”
In a statement, Sen. Sanders added:
“While Mr. Bezos is worth $155 billion and while his wealth has increased $260 million every single day this year, he continues to pay many Amazon employees wages that are so low that they are forced to depend on taxpayer-funded programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing just to get by.
“While Mr. Bezos is the most egregious example, the Walton family of Walmart and many other billionaire-owned large and profitable companies also enrich themselves off taxpayer assistance while paying their workers poverty-level wages.”
At a news conference announcing the bill, Sanders explained:
“The taxpayers of this country would no longer be subsidizing the wealthiest people in this country who are paying their workers inadequate wages. Despite low unemployment, we end up having tens of millions of Americans working at wages that are just so low that they can’t adequately take care of their families.”
Sen. Sanders’ bill follows “The Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) introduced last summer.
That bill currently has nine co-sponsors, including California Rep. Barbara Lee, Maryland Rep. Jamie B. Raskin, and D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Rep. Khanna stated:
“All this legislation is saying, is: Taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for paying the expenses of workers employed by multibillion-dollar companies. The basic premise of the American Dream is that if you work hard and you work for a company that’s doing well, you should earn enough to support your family. Instead, we have an absurd situation where companies with a trillion dollars in market cap — the wealthiest in the world — with employees who don’t make enough to support the basic needs of themselves and their families.”
This past April, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, similar to Sanders’ plan, in which the government would form 15 districts, each guaranteeing jobs that pay a minimum of $15 an hour.
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