Bernie Sanders introduces “Stop BEZOS” bill to tax Amazon for underpaying workers

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) have introduced a bill that would tax companies like Amazon and Walmart for the cost of employees’ food stamps and other public assistance. Sanders’ Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act (abbreviated “Stop BEZOS”) — along with Khanna’s House of Representatives counterpart, the Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act — would institute a 100 percent tax on government benefits that are granted to workers at large companies.

The bill’s text characterizes this as a “corporate welfare tax,” and it would apply to corporations with 500 or more employees. If workers are receiving government aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), national school lunch and breakfast programs, Section 8 housing subsidies, or Medicaid, employers will be taxed for the total cost of those benefits. The bill applies to full-time and part-time employees, as well as independent contractors that are de facto company employees.

Sanders announced his plans for the proposal last month. He emphasized today that “this discussion is not just about Amazon and [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos.” But as the bill’s name would suggest, he’s been particularly critical of Amazon and Bezos who became the richest person in the world (and modern history) last year. “The taxpayers in this country should not be subsidizing a guy who’s worth $150 billion, whose wealth is increasing by $260 million every single day,” Sanders told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. Amazon’s valuation briefly reached $1 trillion yesterday, making it the second US-based company to hit that number.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill, but it has previously claimed that Sanders is painting a misleading portrait of the company and encouraged employees with positive experiences to reach out to the senator.

Amazon workers’ median annual salary last year was $28,446, close to the poverty line for a family of four, and Sanders argues that this number doesn’t include lower-paid workers employed through temp agencies. Amazon has countered by saying that this number includes full-time and part-time employees worldwide, and that the median pay for full-time US workers was $34,123.

A report from nonprofit organization New Food Economy in April also indicated that 1 in 3 Arizona Amazon employees receive SNAP aid, and 1 in 10 receive them in Pennsylvania and Ohio. (The report was based on public records that only five states provided.) Amazon has said that the numbers are skewed by people who work part-time or were only briefly employed at Amazon.

Amazon likely isn’t the company that would be hit hardest by this rule. McDonald’s and Walmart, for instance, had the most SNAP-reliant employees in every state New Food Economy analyzed.

However, Amazon is a huge target, and not just for the left-leaning Sanders. Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson called Amazon’s business practices an “indefensible scam” last week, accusing Amazon and Walmart of operating as monopolies. (He also made the counterintuitive claim that “there’s nothing conservative about most big corporations,” which he called “the backbone of the left.”) Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has an ongoing and seemingly personal grudge against Amazon and Bezos, which isn’t related to wages, but it could color the debate over this bill.

Update 1:15PM ET: Added detail about Rep. Khanna’s House of Representatives bill.

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