The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Thousands of Amazon workers receive food stamps. Now Bernie Sanders wants the company to pay up.

The median Amazon worker received $28,446 last year. The company's founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, is the world's wealthiest man, with a net worth of $157 billion. (Giulio Napolitano/Bloomberg News)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will soon introduce legislation that would require large employers such as Amazon, Walmart and McDonald’s to fully cover the cost of food stamps, public housing, Medicaid and other federal assistance received by their employees. The goal, he says, is to force corporations to pay a living wage and curb about $150 billion in taxpayer dollars that go to funding federal assistance programs for low-wage workers each year.

The bill, which Sanders plans to introduce in the Senate on Sept. 5, would impose a 100 percent tax on government benefits received by workers at companies with 500 or more employees. For example, if an Amazon employee receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300.

“At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the gap between the very rich and everyone else continues to grow wider," Sanders said.

A surge in online shopping and demand for Amazon's cloud services caused a 39 percent jump in revenue for the company. (Video: Reuters)

Labor groups say that gap is particularly pronounced at the nation’s largest — and most profitable — companies, including Walmart, which has about 2.2 million workers, and Amazon, which employs more than 575,000.

Americans are spending $153 billion a year to subsidize McDonald's and Wal-Mart’s low wage workers

Public records obtained by the New Food Economy, a nonprofit news organization, show that thousands of Amazon employees rely on the government’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to make ends meet. As many as 1 in 3 Amazon employees in Arizona — and about 1 in 10 in Pennsylvania and Ohio — receive food stamps, according to an April report by the New Food Economy, based in New York.

Amazon spokeswoman Melanie Etches said the figures were “misleading because they include people who only worked for Amazon for a short period of time and/or who chose to work part-time,” she said in a statement. “We have hundreds of full-time roles available, however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

Sanders’s bill would be an extension of a petition he started on Tuesday calling on the world’s richest man, Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, to pay workers a living wage and to improve working conditions at Amazon warehouses. As of Friday afternoon, it had 112,000 signatures. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

Minimum wages are rising. Pay for experienced retail workers is not.

“While Mr. Bezos is the most egregious example, the Walton family of Walmart and many other billionaire-owned profitable corporations also enrich themselves off taxpayer assistance while paying their workers poverty-level wages," Sanders said. Representatives for Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.

Bezos, who founded Amazon in 1994, has seen his net worth steadily climb in recent months as the stock market hits record highs. He is currently worth $157 billion, up from $99 billion a year ago, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The median Amazon worker, meanwhile, was paid $28,446 last year, according to company filings. (The federal poverty level for a family of four is $24,600.)

Etches, of Amazon, said the company had created more than 130,000 new jobs “with highly competitive pay and full benefits" in the past year. She added that the average hourly wage for full-time workers in U.S. warehouses is more than $15 an hour when stock and incentive bonuses are factored in.

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“We encourage anyone to compare our median pay and benefits to other retailers," Etches said.

The company did not say how many of its workers are part time, but said that it hires thousands of temporary workers during peak holiday times.

Amazon reported profit of $3.03 billion last year, as sales climbed 31 percent to $178 billion.

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