GAO Study Exposes How the Wealthiest Corporations Keep America Poor

Republicans have perfected the rhetoric of blaming 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 so-called 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 hat in hand for financial assistance, or corporate welfare, there isn’t a moment’s hesitation.

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.

In other words, we are incentivizing some of the nation’s largest and most profitable corporations—including Walmart, McDonald’s, Dollar General, and Amazon–to keep workers poor so CEOs can take a billions per year in handouts.

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently commissioned the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the current impact corporate welfare is having on Americans and the economy.

The study titled “Millions of Full-time Workers Rely on Federal Health Care and Food Assistance Programs” concluded about 5.7 million Medicaid enrollees’ and 4.7 million SNAP recipients’ wages were so low they qualified for federal benefits despite being employed full-time for 50 weeks or more in 2018.

Approximately 12 million wage-earning Medicaid-recipient adults and 9 million wage-earning adults living in households relying on SNAP benefits were employed in some capacity in 2018.

Sen. Sanders commented:

“At a time when huge corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s are making billions in profits and giving their CEOs tens of millions of dollars a year, they’re relying on corporate welfare from the federal government by paying their workers starvation wages. That is morally obscene. U.S. taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America. It is time for the owners of Walmart, McDonald’s and other large corporations to get off of welfare and pay their workers a living wage. No one in this country should live in poverty. No one should go hungry. No one should be unable to get the medical care they need. It is long past time to increase the federal minimum wage from a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour to $15, and guarantee health care to all Americans as a human right.”

Sen. Sanders’ staff director and policy adviser, Warren Gunnels, remarked on Wednesday when the study was released:

“The real looting in America is the Walton family becoming $63 billion richer during a pandemic, while paying wages so low that 14,541 of their workers in 9 states need food stamps—all subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Yes. The Walton family is the real welfare queen in America.”

According to the Washington Post, based on the GAO report:

“Walmart was one of the top four employers of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries in every state. McDonald’s was in the top five of employers with employees receiving federal benefits in at least nine states.

“In the nine states that responded about SNAP benefits—Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington—Walmart was found to have employed about 14,500 workers receiving the benefit, followed by McDonald’s with 8,780, according to Sanders’s team. In six states that reported Medicaid enrollees, Walmart again topped the list, with 10,350 employees, followed by McDonald’s with 4,600. 

“In Georgia, for example, Walmart employed an estimated 3,959 workers on Medicaid—an estimated 2.1 percent of the total of non-elderly, non-disabled people in the state receiving the benefit. McDonald’s was next on the list, employing 1,480 who received Medicaid, or 0.8 percent of the total of non-elderly, non-disabled people on the program.”

A press release published on Sen. Sanders’ Senate website states:

“Across nine states–Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington–these large corporations employed the following numbers of SNAP recipients in February 2020:”

·       Walmart – 14,541
·       McDonald’s – 8,783
·       Dollar Tree – 4,515
·       Dollar General – 4,488
·       Amazon – 4,218
·       Burger King – 3,326
·       FedEx – 2,622
·       Wendy’s – 2,237
·       Subway – 2,231
·       Taco Bell – 2,114
·       Uber – 2,032
·       Target – 1,783
·       Dunkin’ Donuts – 1,564
·       Home Depot – 1,305
·       Lowe’s – 1,154
·       Family Dollar – 570
·       CVS – 545
·       Walgreens – 355

“Across six states–Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island–the following large corporations employed these approximate numbers of Medicaid enrollees in February 2020:

·       Walmart – 10,350
·       McDonald’s – 4,600
·       Amazon – 4,154
·       Dollar Tree – 2,964
·       Target – 2,754
·       Dollar General – 2,625
·       Home Depot – 2,237
·       CVS – 1,939
·       Burger King – 1,679
·       Dunkin’ Donuts – 1,278
·       Wendy’s – 1,059
·       FedEx – 1,046
·       Walgreens – 1,009
·       Subway – 973
·       Taco Bell – 868
·       Lowe’s – 611
·       Uber – 591

If only average American taxpayers realized how much their hard-earned wages are being pumped into these companies despite record profits–and how little those companies pay in taxes–perhaps they would not fall for the lie they are peddled about “not being able to afford” Medicare-for-All, college debt forgiveness, and fully funding Social Security.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.