State taxpayers in West Viriginia have been helping to subsidize workers at Wal-Mart who can’t afford health insurance for their kids. It’s just one more public service designed to help Wal-Mart make ends meet. According to a story published in the Charleston, West Virginia News this week, Wal-Mart is the state’s largest private employer, and 452 Wal-Mart workers have their children enrolled in the West Virginia Children’s Health and Insurance Program (CHIP). According to the West Viriginia Bureau of Children & Families, Wal-Mart has more of its employees’ children enrolled in the state health plan than any other employer in the state. In fact, Wal-Mart has three times more employees in the program than the next largest employer, a tree-trimming company. McDonald’s restaurants ranked third in the state, with only one-fifth the number of employee children on the state health plan. Wal-Mart denied any intention plan to enroll its workers on such “welfare” health plans. “It is safe to say we do not design our plan to be supplemented by any public assistance program and we don’t encourage our employees to use them,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper. But Wal-Mart workers turn to CHIP because they can’t afford the plan offered by Wal-Mart. CHIP covers roughly 24,000 children. To qualify for the plan, a family of four would have less than $37,700 a year in income. Wal-Mart has 11,450 employees in West Virginia. The President of the AFL-CIO said that Wal-Mart “could be one of the biggest problems in the health-care system in this state and this country.” The union blamed Wal-Mart’s emphasis on part-time positions, inadequate benefits and low wages for the reason so many Wal-Mart workers have to turn to public health care programs. A family policy at Wal-Mart for a full-time worker (34 hours a week) costs around $1,729 a year, according to Wal-Mart. Before taxes a Wal-Mart worker is earning less than $18,000 a year. So health insurance costs a Wal-Mart worker 10% of their gross salary. Part-time workers at Wal-Mart are not eligible for family health insurance, and must wait two years for individual coverage. But since half the Wal-Mart workforce quits every year, very few part-time workers would ever qualify for health care. Wal-Mart insurance is also a high-deductible plan, which discourages employees from bothering to pay the premiums. A similar study in Georgia in 2002 showed in that state’s program for uninsured children about 10,000 of the 166,000 kids enrolled in the program had a parent working for Wal-Mart. The number was about 14 times the number for the state’s next highest employer. A study earlier this year by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley found Wal-Mart workers in the state cost taxpayers an estimated $86 million annually in health-related and other assistance. Families of Wal-Mart employees in the state used an estimated 40 percent more in health care paid for by the public, on average, than families of employees who worked for other large retail stores in the state, the study found.
Wal-Mart has managed to pry loose many forms of taxpayer assistance: from health insurance for its workers, to free land and water and sewer lines to build its stores. The world’s largest retailer is also the world’s largest welfare case. For more details of the subsidies and tax breaks that Wal-Mart leverages to build its empire, search this database by “corporate welfare” or “health care.”