Are Washington and Oregon taxpayers subsidizing low wages for large employers?

March 25, 2010 | Aaron Keating

ShareWhen a confidential report for Washington legislators put Wal-Mart atop the list of employers whose workers receive food stamps and/or state-subsidized medical coverage, company spokesperson Amy Hill said the report might not be accurate, because it used data from 2004. From the Seattle Times:

“We implemented a lot of new plans last fall that we believe may appeal to people who had chosen to not take our coverage,” Hill said.

Hill said the company recently put in place a new “value” health plan for its employees. Under that plan, employees get 100 percent coverage for their first three doctor visits each year and after that must pay a $1,000 deductible. She said the plan’s employee premiums average $23 per month.

No word yet on how those new plans have worked out here in Washington, but the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) has been tracking employers of clients receiving Food Stamps or medical assistance — and wouldn’t you know it, Wal-Mart is number one on their list for 2008 and 2009 as well. As Northwest Labor Press notes:

The findings are neither verified nor exhaustive but DHS said the sample size was robust enough to ensure a large degree of confidence as to who the top 50 employers were that had large numbers of employees receiving public assistance.

Wal-Mart, which last year reported an 8.8 percent jump in profit to $14.4 billion on sales of $405 billion, topped the list both years, with 468 Oregon employees getting one or both forms of assistance in 2009, and 875 in 2008.

The Oregon report also found public sector employees in a number of spots, along with some unionized private-sector employers. The Labor Press spoke with Oregon State Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie), who sponsored a bill in the 2007 legislative session to require DHS to track employers whose workers get food stamps or state medical assistance. His comment:

“These reports are an indictment of companies that fail to pay their fair share and provide a full-time work week,” Witt told the Labor Press, “and the end result is that we the taxpayers end up subsidizing their workforce.”

Interesting to note that the rankings of the 2006 Washington report are “similar to what lawmakers saw three years ago in a report that the state now says was improperly released to the public”, according to the Times article, though “the totals in the [2006] report — especially for numbers of employees on Medicaid — are much higher than before.”

Oregon’s report is more recent, but did not link employer data to other sources (such as Employment Department wage matches or to other DHS income source). Washington State, on the other hand, matched Medicaid and Basic Health Plan recipient lists with employee data from the state Employment Security Department. So it’s conceivable that if Oregon used the same research methods, DHS find even higher numbers, much as Washington did between 2003 and 2006.

Walmart, which last year reported an 8.8 percent jump in profit to $14.4 billion on sales of $405 billion, topped the list both years, with 468 Oregon employees getting one or both forms of assistance in 2009, and 875 in 2008.


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Posted in Health Care, Tax and Budget

Comments

  1. Alan Harvey says:

    Notice on the other side of the ledger that big box retailers who are vertically integrated pay a lower effective B&O tax. The more warehousing and transporting they do in-house and the less production they do in Washington, the better they avoid the B&O. Washington actually taxes products made in China at a lower rate than those made in Renton.

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