Bernie Sanders says people who work for the richest person in the world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, shouldn't have to rely on public assistance for food and shelter. That amounts to the kind of corporate welfare the Vermont senator says costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars a year.
As a remedy, Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna, D.-California, on Wednesday proposed legislation that would impose a 100 percent tax on companies equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their employees. If a worker collected $2,000 in food stamps, for instance, the employer would be taxed $2,000 to cover the cost. The requirement would apply to any company with more than 500 workers.
"The wealthiest person in the world is advertising jobs that pay workers wages that are so low that they have to go on public assistance and be subsidized by the middle class of this country," said Sanders in alluding to Bezos.
Because of low wages, taxpayers must shell out $150 billion a year on government assistance that workers wouldn't have to tap if their pay was better, Sanders said, citing a study from the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center.
Bezos is worth an estimated $168 billion, with his wealth increasing by $260 million each day, said Sanders, an independent and former contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. But Amazon pays thousands of its workers wages "so low that they must rely on food stamps, Medicaid or public housing in order to survive," Sanders said in an online briefing to announce the measure, called the "Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act."
Amazon this week became the second U.S. company, along with Apple, with a market value exceeding $1 trillion.
"We have a situation where people are working hard and reading headlines that the company they are working for has a trillion-dollar marketshare," said Khanna. "If you bag groceries you should be able to buy groceries."
Amazon earlier this year disclosed that roughly half its workforce earns about $13.67 an hour, or less than $28,500 a year. That figure doesn't include the estimated 40 percent of workers with the online retailer who are employed through temporary staffing agencies, Sanders said.
As of 2017, a person under age 65 was considered below the federal poverty line if he or she earned $12,752, according to the Census Bureau. For a family of four, the figure is $25,283.
"You have a company doing phenomenonally well, and the point we're making is Bezos could play a profound role. If he said today, nobody who is employed at Amazon will receive less than a living wage, it would send a message to every corporation in America," Sanders said.
Amazon, which last week accused Sanders of making "misleading statements" about its employee pay, declined to comment about the proposed bill.
Amazon isn't the legislation's sole target. Sanders pointed to Walmart as another major U.S. company that reaps massive profits while paying wages that leave many of its employees dependent upon public assistance programs financed by taxpayers.
The Walton clan that owns Walmart is the nation's wealthiest family, with a net worth of nearly $175 billion. That means "this one family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans," said Sanders, who added that the fast-food industry is another large recipient of corporate welfare.
Walmart also declined comment. The retail giant in January announced that it would raise the starting wage for employees from $9 to $11 per hour.
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