- Walmart and McDonald’s are among the companies with most workers on federally-funded social safety net programs to help pay for healthcare and food assistance, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
- Thousands of people working at the chains are on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps and Medicaid, the watchdog found.
- Walmart was in the top four employers of Medicaid and SNAP recipients in each of the states analysed in the report.
- “Giant corporations pay starvation wages – wages so low their workers have to rely on Medicaid and food stamps to survive,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who commissioned the report.
- Spokespersons from Walmart and McDonald’s told The Washington Post that the findings reflected that their companies were among the largest employers in the US.
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Thousands of workers at Walmart, McDonald’s, and other stores and fast food chains are on federally-funded social safety net programs to help pay for basic needs like healthcare and food, according to a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who commissioned the report,described the findings as “outrageous” and called for companies to pay their workers more.
Around 70% of people on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps and Medicaid work full-time, the watchdog found, and the majority of these worked for larger companies with 100 or more staff.
Around 90% of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries worked for private sector employers such as restaurants, department stores, and grocery stores, the report found.
Some also worked for state governments, public universities, and nonprofit organisations.
The GAO analysed census and employment data alongside information from six Medicaid agencies and nine SNAP agencies across 11 states.
In the nine states responding about SNAP food stamps, Walmart employed about 14,500 workers receiving the benefit, the Sanders team said, per The Washington Post. McDonald’s was next with 8,780.
In six states that responded about Medicaid, Walmart was top with 10,350 employees, followed by McDonald’s with 4,600, the data showed.
Walmart was in the top four employers of non-disabled, non-elderly (NDNE) adult Medicaid and SNAP recipients in each of the states analysed in the report.
In Georgia, around 2.1% of all NDNE adult Medicaid enrollees worked at Walmart, the GAO reported, with around 3,959 staff claiming the healthcare benefit.
McDonald’s staff were the second highest claimants of NDNE adult Medicaid in the state at around 1,480, or 0.8%.
In Oklahoma, these proportions were even higher. Around 2.8% of all NDNE adult Medicaid beneficiaries in employment worked at Walmart, and 1.4% at McDonald’s, the watchdog found.
Among workers who accessed food stamps through SNAP, Arkansas had the highest proportion of Walmart workers. One in 32 wage-earning SNAP recipients in the state worked at Walmart, the report found.
The report found that Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients were significantly more likely to work in the leisure and hospitality industry than workers not on either programs.
Around 17.1% of all Medicaid recipients in employment work in the sector, compared to 8.4% of non-recipients.
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A Walmart spokesperson told The Washington Post that the company was the largest employer in the US, and explained that the report’s findings reflected this.
Walmart’s starting rate was more than 50% higher than the federal minimum wage, they added, and said the company supports efforts to raise the minimum wage.
“If not for the employment access Walmart and other companies provide, many more people would be dependent on government assistance,” the spokesperson said. “A small percentage of our workforce comes to us on public assistance, and we remove employment barriers and create opportunities for individuals that too many overlook.”
A McDonald’s spokesperson similarly suggested to the Post that the data may be misleading because of the size of McDonald’s and Walmart’s workforces.
“The average starting wage at U.S. corporate-owned restaurants is over $US10 per hour and exceeds the federal minimum wage,” they added. “McDonald’s believes elected leaders have a responsibility to set, debate and change mandated minimum wages and does not lobby against or participate in any activities opposing raising the minimum wage.”
Walmart and McDonald’s did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Discussing the findings on Twitter, Sanders called for Walmart to pay its workers a living wage.
The Walton family is worth $238 billion. Yet they pay wages so low, 14,541 of their workers in 9 states are forced to rely on food stamps to feed their families. Outrageous.
I say to the Walton family: Get off welfare. Pay your workers a living wage—at least $15 an hour. https://t.co/tJwLQoeWRR
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 18, 2020
Other companies whose workers were among the top claimants of Medicaid and SNAP include Amazon, Dollar Tree, and fast food chains such as Burger King, Subway, and Taco Bell, according to the report, though this varied significantly between states.
Sanders said the study showed that “giant corporations pay starvation wages â€” wages so low their workers have to rely on Medicaid and food stamps to survive.”
“This is what a rigged economy is about,” he added. “We need a $US15 living wage and Medicare for All.”
In the November elections, Florida voted to increase the state’s minimum wage from $US8.56 to $US15 by 2026. This made it the eighth state â€” and the most conservative yet â€” to approve a $US15 hourly minimum wage.
President-elect Joe Biden wants to increase the federal minimum wage to $US15 an hour, up from the current $US7.25. This could raise the incomes of more than 27 million workers.
In 2019, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a plan to incrementally raise the federal minimum wage to $US15 an hour by 2025, but this was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate.
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