Some of the United States’ largest corporations, including McDonald’s and Walmart, employ thousands of workers who receive aid from federal assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, according to the findings of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report commissioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
The nonpartisan watchdog agency’s analysis of data from the Census Bureau, as well as 15 state agencies across 11 states, found that “millions” of full-time workers rely on government assistance to make ends meet. The report focused on Medicaid benefits as well as recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Walmart ranked among the top four largest employees of SNAP and Medicaid benefits in the states whose data was included in the report, employing an estimated 14,500 workers who received food stamps, according to the GAO report’s findings. McDonald’s was listed in the top five for at least nine states and was said to employ nearly 8,800 workers who received SNAP assistance within the data set.
Other notable companies appearing in the report included Amazon, Kroger, Uber and FedEx.
“Most working adults in the programs worked for private-sector employers concentrated in certain industries, including restaurants, department stores, and grocery stores,” the GAO’s report said.
The Washington Post was first to report on the numbers.
McDonald's and Walmart are among the largest employers in the country, as well as in the states referenced in the report. Representatives for both companies pushed back on its findings.
“If not for the employment access Walmart and other companies provide, many more people would be dependent on government assistance,” a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
“Walmart has invested more than $5 billion in increased pay, expanded health benefits, and a debt-free college program over the past five years and our starting rate is more than 50% higher than the federal minimum wage, which Washington hasn’t changed in more than a decade. We support efforts to raise the minimum wage while we continue to make investments in our associates,” the spokesperson added.
McDonald's USA noted “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," the company said in a statement.
“McDonald’s and franchisees are proud to provide employment, education and skills development opportunities for more than 800,000 crew members across 14,000 restaurants, including providing access to academic advice and degree completion programs, reducing barriers to unemployment and helping 2 million young people develop life skills through our Youth Opportunity Initiative,” the company added.
Sanders reacted to the GAO report’s findings in a scathing tweet in which he accused a list of companies, including McDonald’s and Walmart, of paying “starvation wages” to their employees.
“This is what a rigged economy is about,” Sanders wrote. “We need a $15 living wage and Medicare for All.”
Sanders’ office did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Sanders and other Democratic leaders have advocated in recent years for the implementation of a $15 federal minimum wage. President-elect Joe Biden has signaled that he intends to support the proposed wage hike.
This story has been updated.