WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) announced legislation Wednesday to give large, profitable corporations such as Amazon and Walmart a choice: pay workers a living wage or pay for the public assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps and public housing its low-wage workers are forced to rely on.
Low wages cost taxpayers about $150 billion per year, according to a study from the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center.
Sanders' bill, the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act, aims to end corporate welfare by establishing a 100 percent tax on corporations with 500 or more employees equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their low-wage workers. For example, if a worker at Amazon receives $2,000 in food stamps, the corporation would be taxed $2,000 to cover that cost.
"Let us be very clear: We believe that the government has a moral responsibility to provide for the vulnerable – the children, the elderly, the sick and the disabled. But we do not believe that taxpayers should have to expend huge sums of money subsidizing profitable corporations owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country. That's what a rigged economy is about," Sanders said.
"There’s no reason why people who work hard to provide for themselves and their families should be living paycheck to paycheck, having to choose between feeding their family and making rent. Our nation needs to provide people with basic fairness. Massive corporations are only draining our economy by vastly underpaying workers. I’m proud to have Senator Sanders as my partner in this fight, leading the Senate companion to my bill, the Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2017, to incentive large companies to pay their hard working employees a living wage," Khanna said.
The billionaire owners of some of the most profitable corporations in America are the largest recipients of welfare.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on Earth, and since the beginning of this year, his wealth has increased by about $260 million every day. Meanwhile, thousands of Amazon workers rely on food stamps because their wages are so low. 1 out of 3 Amazon workers in Arizona and 2,400 in Pennsylvania and Ohio depend on food stamps to put food on the table, according to The New Food Economy.
In the last week, hundreds of Amazon employees have written to Sanders to describe the terrible working conditions at Amazon warehouses and the low wages they are paid.
A former Amazon worker from Tennessee wrote: “I worked at Amazon for 5 months at $11.00 an hour as a full-time employee. I was on SNAP and had to live with my parents and my three children because I could not afford to find a safe location for my family.”
A former Amazon worker from North Carolina said: “Been on food stamps (yes SNAP) entire time I been working at Amazon. Back breaking labor, terrible pay and even worse conditions. No union backing. I feel like a slave and if anyone complains they will fire you on the spot. This is the 21st century sweatshop.”
And a current Amazon employee wrote: “I work 40 hours a week at $13.25. I have two kids to support. I receive $90 of food stamps….I don't make enough to eat lunch at work so I split a protein shake between two meals to make sure my children eat.”
The Walton family of Walmart – the wealthiest family in the country – also benefits from taxpayer assistance. Walmart pays its associates wages so low that many of them are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing to survive, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of an estimated $6.2 billion a year.
Low wages at McDonald's alone cost the federal government and U.S. taxpayers over $1.2 billion a year, while 52 percent of all fast food workers rely upon public assistance programs to survive.
“The BEZOS Act is an important step toward putting much-needed balance into our economy," said Amanda Ballantyne, Main Street Alliance National Director. "Main Street businesses want this every bit as much as employees do. When giant corporations drive a race to the bottom on wages and benefits, the damage reaches both small businesses and the communities they serve. Main Street businesses believe we have a shared responsibility for making sure everyone can access health care, food, and housing. Giant corporations should not be given a pass. The BEZOS Act will help level the playing field toward an economy that serves not corporate donors but all the people who make up Main Street.”
To read a summary of the bill, click here.
To read the text of the bill, click here.
To read Sanders' remarks, click here.
To watch the announcement of the bill, click here.