While lawmakers in Washington DC target employers with workers relying on government assistance, others in Washington state are pointing out which companies are the worst offenders. Amazon, Walmart and large employers rise to the top of the list.
Bellevue Patch looked into which companies had the most employees using Washington SNAP — the state's food stamp program. It found that while companies such as Amazon and Starbucks have boasted great success at one end, many of their employees at the other end are struggling to make ends meet, using government services. At the top of the list is Walmart which employs 3,942 people using SNAP (food stamps).
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Others on the state’s list of companies employing the most people using food stamps include a variety of fast food, grocery, and retail companies: McDonalds (2,822 employees on food stamps); Safeway (2,822); Goodwill (995); Starbucks (633). Fred Meyer reportedly has more than 16,000 Washington employees, with about 10 percent using food stamps (1,611). Out of Amazon’s 50,000 Washington employees, 1,366 are on SNAP, or about 2.7 percent. Patch points out that there are a range of factors at play when looking at the big picture, such as the gig economy with companies like Uber that employ 1,419 people on food stamps.
A new "Amazon tax"
The report comes at the same time Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that proposes to tax large companies with employees using government services. The proposal goes beyond food stamps and notes that many such workers rely on government-assisted housing or Medicaid costing taxpayers 152.8 billion annually. Congressmember Ro Khanna of California has introduced a companion bill. They were both introduced last week.
The goal is to get companies to pay higher wages to get employees off government services and contribute to the economy.
"There is this sense in America that if you work hard and you happen to pick a company that does well, you should do well," Khanna said last week. "That's the basic American promise. You have a situation where people are working hard and they are reading headlines that the company they work for has a trillion dollar market share, or a multi-billion dollar market share and they are wondering why they can't have the basic wage to support their families."
“If you bag groceries, you should be able to buy groceries,” he said. “… If you put together the packages that land on the doorsteps of my wife and I, you should be able to go online and shop for those packages. This is not a radical idea … in 1914, Henry Ford doubled wages from $2.50 to $5 an hour.”
Khanna notes that $5 in 1914 would be the equivalent of $120 in 2018.
“Guess what happened? Half the country wanted Henry Ford to run for president,” he said. “It was that popular and led to wages increasing. For all those billionaires who now think they can be president, a little bit of free advice: why don’t you just double wages? It will do more good than most of the consultants you have hired.”
Stop BEZOS Act
Sanders' bill is called the "Stop BEZOS Act" (aka Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies) — conveniently named after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It is a 100 percent tax on companies with 500 or more employees that equals the amount of government assistance employees receive. If Amazon's employees use $100 in food stamps, then Amazon is taxed $100. If Walmart employees use $3,000 in housing assistance, then Walmart is taxed $3,000, etc.
“In other words, the taxpayers of this country would no longer be subsidizing the wealthiest people in this country for paying their workers inadequate wages,” Sanders said last week.
“Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on Earth,” he also said. “I think, as I understand it, his wealth went up by $2 billion yesterday — Amazon had a good day. And he is worth about $168 billion. Not bad … Meanwhile, Mr. Bezos continues to pay thousands of his Amazon employees wages that are so low that they must rely on food stamps, Medicaid, or subsidized housing in order to survive,” he said.
See Patch's full list and report here.