Wal-Mart freeloads off Georgia kids

Thousands of Georgia kids are going without health care as a result of Wal-Mart’s freeloading on the state’s health care program for poor children, according to a state legislator in Georgia, where a $5 million health care budget deficit was filled by “locking out” 45,000 low-income kids this year.

State Rep. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) explained the connection between the health care cuts for kids in her state and the world’s largest retailer. PeachCare for Kids is the state’s program for health care for low-income children who are not eligible for Medicaid. Last year, the Republican-dominated Legislature coldly calculated the number of kids whose parents were even one day late in paying their PeachCare premiums. By “locking out” these youngsters from the system for three months at a time, they were able to fill the $5 million budget gap.

However, said Orrock, the $6 million cost to taxpayers of providing health care to the 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees exceeds the budget gap that prompted the lock-out. “Wal-Mart is the main corporate beneficiary” of the PeachCare for Kids program, she charged. “We’re not talking nickels and dimes here. They are milking money out of it hand over fist.”

More than 6 percent of PeachCare for Kids participants are dependents of Wal-Mart employees. These numbers came out after Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D) used executive powers to order a study of who was accessing state-funded medical assistance programs, Orrock said.

While new hires for most employers spend their first few hours filling out forms for company benefits, at Wal-Mart the human relations office offers new hires information on how to apply for state assistance, recounted other speakers on an April 4 conference call organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the AFL-CIO.

The phone conference was held to respond to a newly launched media blitz by Wal-Mart. The blitz includes an invitation-only, two-day seminar in Arkansas for selected journalists from across the country. People’s Weekly World correspondents were not among the selected.

While Wal-Mart claims to offer medical benefits to its employees, part-timers are not eligible for family coverage, and many full-time workers are unable to afford the premiums, which would take up 10 to 20 percent of their earnings.

Wal-Mart’s corporate practices are being challenged by a new coalition of 50 groups, including lawmakers, academics, environmentalists, religious and community organizations as well as labor unions. The coalition will lobby at the state level to force disclosure, like that in Georgia, of the amount of taxpayer money expended to cover Wal-Mart employees pushed onto state-financed health care programs.