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2006-02-09
Olympia, WA. Wal-Mart Pushes $24 M In Health Costs Onto Taxpayers

Wal-Mart gets health care for many of its workers in Washington state at an "everyday low price." In fact, it's free -- because the taxpayers of Washington are paying for it. A new study released this week by the State Senate reveals that Wal-Mart workers cost the state $24 million in 2004. "The numbers tell us why it's imperative that we act now," State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) told the Seattle Times. Kohl-Welles serves as chairwoman of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Research and Development Committee which produced the study. The Senate numbers are based on two confidential reports that list companies whose workers are receiving Medicaid or other state insurance plans. The Delaware-incorporated retailer had 3,636 "associates" on Medicaid or the state's Basic Health Plan. The study apparently did not count the children of Wal-Mart employees in the cost of the program. Of the $12 million state share of the cost, $11 million is in Medicaid, a health insurance plan for low-income people. "We're talking about an $11 million subsidy to the most profitable corporation in the country," said House Labor and Commerce Committee Chairman Steve Conway. Wal-Mart responded by claiming the Senate's data was "probably flawed" and that the retailer has "significantly" improved its health care coverage. But instead of talking about the message, Wal-Mart decided to attack the messenger. "Taking this report and kowtowing to the unions is doing no one any good," a Wal-Mart spokesperson said. The new study comes at a time when lawmakers in Washington state are pushing a "fair share" health care bill that would require companies with 5,000 or more workers to invest a minimum of 9% of their payroll costs towards health care benefits. The legislation mirrors a similar law in Maryland that applies to companies with 10,000 workers or more. Besides Wal-Mart, other top companies on the list include Safeway ($6 M in subsidies) , Fred Meyer ($3.6 M) and Target ($2.9M). Among those companies, only Safeway is unionized. The grocer has as many employees as Wal-Mart in Washington, but less than half as many workers on Medicaid.

What you can do: Wal-Mart claims to have 16,118 workers in Washington state, so these figures suggest that around 22% of their workers get health insurance at taxpayer's costs, not from their employer. The average wage Wal-Mart pays its employees in Washington state is $10.81 per hour. For a 34 hour full-time workweek, an employee would take home $18,830 annually, which for a single woman with two children, is roughly $52 a week above poverty. Wal-Mart also says it paid a total of $13.3 million in state and local taxes in Washington in 2004. If they cost state and federal taxpayers $24 million, it means taxpayers suffered a net loss of around $11 million that year to subsidize Wal-Mart's operations in the state. The company operates 43 stores in Washington, including 19 superestores. The company has one "dead store" in Mt. Vernon, WA, and is facing strong citizen opposition in places like Pullman and Spokane. For earlier stories on Wal-Mart infirm health insurance plans, search Newsflash by "health care." To see a sample "fair share" health care bill for your state, contact info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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