Government assistance is something that millions of Americans rely on. This is not simply an issue of people who have gainful employment versus those who do not. This is an issue of income inequality, stagnating wages, and employers who rely on welfare to heighten their profit margins. Tens of millions of military families rely on SNAP assistance to make ends meet. Politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders have called for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the relationship between federal assistance programs and employers.
On Nov. 18, GAO released their findings on the millions of Americans who work for such low wages that they must rely on federal assistance programs to scrape by. Contradicting the conservative racist and classist fairytale, 70% of Americans receiving federal assistance in some form or another work full time. Of those Americans who are fully employed, most of them work in the private sector—the sector Republicans like to call the “job creators.” More than half of recipients of Medicaid and SNAP work 50 to 52 weeks a year. For a reference point: There are only 52 weeks in a year. And as The Washington Post points out, Walmart and McDonald’s are at the top of list of employers with business models that rely on the American taxpayer to pay for their workers’ health, food, and housing.
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.
A reminder here is that these are the Americans who work all of the jobs Americans rely on, so that we can use drive-thrus and eat things, walk into stores and buy things, and rush oneself or one’s kids into public bathrooms that have been cleaned. Not coincidentally, these are all of the companies run by some of the wealthiest people in our country and the world. Besides Walmart and McDonalds, “Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Amazon, Burger King and FedEx” also relied on underpaying large swaths of their workforce.
Up until last year, McDonald’s actively lobbied against raising the minimum wage across the country. Of course, they aren’t raising their wages any time soon. Of course, they’ve graciously offered to follow the law. When asked about the report and McDonald’s prominence on the list, a spokesperson told WaPo: “The average starting wage at U.S. corporate-owned restaurants is over $10 per hour and exceeds the federal minimum wage. 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’s spokesperson took a different angle, saying much the same thing—that some of their employees “comes to us on public assistance,” and Walmart, like a great plantation owner, gives them a job. It’s almost like the company that during a pandemic has generated a reported $5.14 billion in net income this last quarter is the Mahatma Gandhi of employers. The positions that companies like Walmart and McDonald’s take are the same ones that have been taken by the gun industry and fossil fuel industry: They work to cast doubt on the chance that any legislation could possibly ameliorate anything because there is no panacea for this problem. They’re right, of course; there isn’t a single answer. But the “we have done nothing and nothing has worked” answer is clearly making things worse. Not better or even the same—worse.
Besides cutting back on social safety net programs, the only “plan” the Republican Party has been able to come up with in recent years is to pile on humiliation for those in need of a little help while taking away Americans’ personal freedom to choose. The Trump administration was not a creative administration. They were simply a coarse version of existing Republican policies bottled into a more incompetent and transparently corrupt group of gangsters. Besides attempting to cut back on food assistance programs during the pandemic they exacerbated, the best idea they came up with to ameliorate Americans’ growing economic insecurity and anxiety was to offer up a Orwellian version of rationing.