Stuck in a cab heading north last time President Obama was in town, I had an opportunity to listen to NPR, a station preferred by many cabdrivers. It was five p.m. and traffic was at a standstill, so I was able to catch most of ‘Marketplace.’ One of the features was about food-stamp assistance and the many thousands of American workers who don’t have enough to feed their families.
One of the persons interviewed was a Walmart employee, who recalled a painful period recently, when she and her family had had to rely on food stamps, even though she was working full-time. Her voice kept breaking as she talked. Embarrassed by her hardship, she was fighting back tears. To me, her experience was extremely shocking, illustrating how Walmart, one of America’s largest, most profitable corporations, is essentially gaming our federal-assistance programs. Its lowest-wage workers manage to keep going only by using food-stamps to feed their families. What’s more, when underpaid workers and others receive food-stamps, they often spend them at Walmart and other discount retailers.
An April 15 article appearing in Forbes magazine reports that “Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion in Federal Assistance.” The article is based on findings of a new study by Americans for Tax Fairness, which estimates that a single Walmart supercenter costs US taxpayers as much as $900,000 and $1.75 million annually, because Walmart pays its employees so poorly that, to meet their needs, many end up relying on food stamps, Medicaid, and low-income housing.
Similar reports released last fall showed that American taxpayers also foot nearly $7 billion of the annual labor costs at McDonald’s and other leading fast-food companies.
Meanwhile, Walmart is thought to be the single biggest corporate beneficiary of food-stamp spending. The Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal reported last year that the retailer received as much as 18 percent of all the food-stamp dollars spent. That amounts to $14 billion annually. Walmart’s total profits were $17 billion in 2013.
Millions of Americans experience “food insecurity”—meaning they do not know where their next meal is coming from. An astonishing 1 in 7 Americans (47 million people) rely on food-stamps these days. Even that figure doesn’t represent the number of Americans who are hungry. Many elderly people who qualify for food stamps refuse to sign up for them because of their pride, according to Eli Saslow, whose reporting on American hunger for the Washington Post has just won the Pulitzer Prize.
I urge you to read or listen to Krissy Clark’s eye-opening 3-part series, “The Secret Life of a Food Stamp,”
Only a combination of social pressure, individual choice, and political action can ensure more Americans a taste of the American feast.
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