Officials in Georgia have decided to look a gift horse in the mouth — and they’d didn’t like what they saw. In a 33-4 vote, the legislature in Albany County, Georgia, this week refused to accept a $1,000 “health care grant” from the Wal-Mart Foundation. The Wal-Mart money was supposed to be used for an immunization program for children and the elderly, but county officials said they preferred to use county money rather than Wal-Mart’s gift. “We should send that $1,000 back to Wal-Mart, back to Arkansas, and tell them to give it to their employees for health insurance,” said legislator Gary Domalewicz of Albany. “We shouldn’t help them enhance their corporate image.” Lawmakers also noted that the county may be subsidizing Wal-Mart worker’s health care costs during the waiting period before workers are able to claim benefits under their Wal-Mart health plan, and for those Wal-Mart “associates” not able to afford the company’s health insurance. “We’d wind up using the $1,000 to immunize the children of their employees who don’t have benefits,” one lawmaker noted. According to another legislator, a statewide study in Georgia showed that more than 10,000 of the children enrolled in a state insurance plan for kids had parents working at Wal-Mart. The survey concluded that the number of children with Wal-Mart parents in the state plan was much higher, per worker, than other major employers in the state. “This is a company that has grown exponentially by not paying a living wage, and not providing their employees with benefits,” said Allen Maikels of Guilderland. According to Wal-Mart, the company contributed $7.4 million in ‘community involvement’ to the state of Georgia in 2002.
The Albany County criticism of Wal-Mart’s lack of health coverage comes on the heels of a U.S. Congressional report by Congressman George Miller of California. In Miller’s report, released in February, 2004, Wal-Mart was castigated for shifting “much of the health care costs onto employees.” The report notes that Wal-Mart workers paid 42% of their health care costs in 2001. A single Wal-Mart worker could end up spending around $6,400 out of pocket — about 45% of her annual full time salary — before seeing a single benefit from her health plan. The study concluded: “because they cannot afford the company health plan, many Wal-Mart workers must turn to public assistance for health care…Wal-Mart forces taxpayers to subsidize what should be a company-funded health plan.” [Thanks to Stacy Mitchell at the New Rules Project for passing this story on to sprawl-busters.]