Walmart could decide not to be America’s biggest food stamp recipient

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the food stamp program, now known as SNAP, which one in seven Americans now relies on to have enough to eat. As Marketplace reported last week, Walmart is the biggest beneficiary of this taxpayer-funded subsidy: It brings in the largest share of food stamp dollars of any retailer, about $13 billion in 2013. Walmart even acknowledged the significance of SNAP to the company in the annual report it released three weeks ago.

But more notably, Walmart is believed to have the most employees who qualify for food stamps because of how paltry their Walmart pay is. In effect, then, Walmart is relying on the federal government’s SNAP program to fill some of the yawning gap between the low wages it pays its associates and a living wage. Walmart has tried explain away its low wages by proclaiming that it offers advancement opportunities for associates, but in fact, as the Huffington Post has reported, internal company documents show that Walmart maintains “a rigid pay structure for hourly employees that makes it difficult for most to rise much beyond poverty-level wages.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Walmart leaders like Doug McMillon or Rob Walton could make a simple decision to take the high road and give Walmart associates enough of a raise so they can afford to feed their families without SNAP. As this Marketplace video shows, it’s eminently possible for Walmart to raise wages and have next to no effect on prices. Indeed, it would also be a good business decision: Not only would better pay increase employee productivity and morale, but associates who had more money in their pockets would probably spend it at Walmart, providing a much-needed boost to the company’s anemic sales figures. Sounds like a win-win situation—so what’s holding you back, Doug and Rob?

What do you think?