One of the major beneficiaries of the nation's food-stamp program is actually a hugely profitable company: Walmart.
Americans spend about 18 percent of all food stamp dollars at Walmart, according to company estimates told to the Wall Street Journal and confirmed by The Huffington Post. That's about $14 billion of the $80 billion Congress set aside for food stamps last year. The company's total profits for 2013 were $17 billion.
The news comes just as food-stamp benefits are about to be cut for 47 million Americans. On Friday, a key provision boosting the program is set to expire.
After that, 47 million Americans will struggle even more than usual to afford the basics. Walmart isn't too concerned: When shoppers become more concerned about price, they’re more likely to turn to Walmart, Bill Simon, the retailer’s U.S. CEO, said at an analyst meeting earlier this month.
"I would say we're cautious but modestly optimistic," Simon said. "When the [food-stamp] benefits expanded, our market share actually went down."
Still, as the nation's largest low-cost retailer, the company has close ties to the food-stamp economy. Walmart has historically lobbied around food stamps, according to a report from Eat Drink Politics, an advocacy group. In addition, the company also worked with First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011 on the Great American Family Dinner Challenge, a push to get families to eat healthy on a food-stamp budget.
“A significant percentage of all SNAP dollars are spent in our stores, and they are used to buy items like bananas, whole milk, Ramen noodles, and hot dogs,” then-Walmart executive Leslie Dach said at a conference in 2011, where he discussed the retailer's plans to help shoppers buy healthier meals on food stamps.
That so many people associate Walmart with food stamps was clear earlier this month, when Louisiana food-stamp users realized a computer glitch caused them to temporarily have unlimited food-stamp money to spend. What did they do? They raced to local Walmart stores and stripped the shelves bare.
In the past, companies like Pepsi, Coke and the midwestern grocery chain Kroger, have lobbied around food stamps, indicating how much they rely on the money. Last year, Tony Vernon, then the incoming CEO of Kraft, admitted the mac n’ cheese maker opposed food stamp cuts because food stamp users were “a big part of our audience.”