MILWAUKEE—Wisconsin has 8 billionaires who collectively saw their wealth increase by $14.2 billion or 36.1% during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic even as the state’s economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected, a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and Citizen Action of Wisconsin shows.
Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and June 17, the total net worth of the state’s eight billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $53.6 billion, based on an analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the most recent real-time data was collected June 17 from the Forbes website.
Three Wisconsin billionaires—John Menard, Jr., Diane Hendricks and Herbert Kohler, Jr.—saw their wealth grow by 65%, 39% and 29%, respectively. During about the same period of the pandemic 629,000 of the state’s residents lost their jobs, 26,000 fell ill with the virus and 700 died from it.
Among other COVID-19 victims are the 27 million Americans who may lose their employer-provided healthcare coverage. Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.
Over the same three-month period, the nation’s 600-plus billionaires saw their combined wealth increase by $584 billion or 20%—rising from $2.948 trillion to $3.531 trillion, based on ATF’s analysis of Forbes data. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported that as of the week of June 10, total U.S. household wealth had shrunk by $6.5 trillion during the first three months of the pandemic.
The three richest Americans, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, saw their combined wealth jump by $87 billion, or 38%, 11% and 58%, respectively. The total number of billionaires grew from 614 to 643.
“Now is the time for Wisconsinites to unite across our differences and demand our government leaders make decisions that help every-day people like us—not the richest 1% and a handful of corporations who are profiting from this pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As individuals, we can wash our hands, avoid unnecessary travel, and check in on our friends and neighbors. As a united force, we can demand our local, state, and national governments do everything possible to protect everyone’s health and financial stability, no exceptions.”
“It’s immoral that billionaires are getting richer and richer while average Americans are treading water if they are lucky, or drowning, from the economic crash caused by the pandemic,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to urgently provide a major new financial aid package to ensure working families can recover and critical state and local services can keep being provided. The package should repeal the huge tax break for millionaires in the first major financial aid law and block any new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.”
“In the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, billionaires are getting richer while millions are losing coverage or have no access to affordable health care,” said Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now. Rather than pass the relief measures that we all need to beat COVID, Congress is letting families, workers, seniors and many others go without the health care they need to survive, letting health care workers go without protective equipment and forcing hospitals to face unprecedented shortages in beds, ventilators and medicines. It’s obvious there’s plenty of money—the problem here is Congress’ priorities.”
Decades of tax cuts for the rich have fueled the growth of billionaires and their wealth. And even in the midst of the greatest national emergency since World War II, tax handouts to the wealthy have continued—most recently in the form of a $135 billion handout slipped into the $2 trillion CARES pandemic relief law enacted in late March. It primarily benefits millionaire business owners and costs three times more than the law spends on social safety net programs and exceeds the amount expended on hospitals and public health.
The House HEROES Act passed in May would repeal this tax break that is giving an average tax cut of $1.6 million this year to 43,000 millionaires and billionaires, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). That big payout contrasts sharply with the one-time stimulus checks of up to $1,200 that have helped 159 million people under the CARES Act. Closing this tax loophole and making it permanent would raise $246 billion per the JCT, which could be used for a new major pandemic financial relief and recovery package.
As the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the next coronavirus aid legislation, a broad coalition of more than 230 organizations, including some Wisconsin groups, is urging repeal of the Millionaires Giveaway tax cut for wealthy business owners. So far, 24 senators support repeal legislation (S. 3640), including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), but not Sen. Ron Johnson (R).
Rather than respond to growing needs from increasing numbers of unemployed people, new patients, and overburdened local and state agencies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been slow-walking legislative action on another major relief measure such as the HEROES Act, especially one that would provide a major cash infusion to state and local governments that have lost huge amounts of tax revenue but must by law balance their budgets. Instead, McConnell has suggested that states file for bankruptcy.
The HEROES Act would greatly benefit Wisconsin during this economic crisis by providing immediate relief and laying the groundwork for a more robust economic recovery, including:
State residents will also get their fair share of the following other assistance provided by the HEROES Act should it become law:
Increased support from the federal government directly to states through these provisions is the best way to avoid state cuts to jobs and services that would worsen the impact of the pandemic and prolong the recession the country is experiencing.
Economists warn that delayed action on more funding to states, unemployment benefits, and safety net services will have dire consequences for recovery, could lengthen and deepen the recession and curtail job growth for the next decade. Moreover, coronavirus cases are back on the rise in over two dozen states, including Wisconsin, where the re-opening process has increased risk of exposure thereby further jeopardizing the economy. Wisconsin Department of Health Services data confirms that the state’s 7-day average of new confirmed cases has steadily increased since mid-June.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cited rising deficits in delaying immediate consideration of new pandemic relief legislation, but so far has not proposed rolling back the $135 billion Millionaires Giveaway in the CARES Act. Rather, McConnell’s key priority for the next relief package has been to provide legal immunity to employers by limiting workers’ rights in court to sue bosses who put their safety at risk or neglect COVID protocols.
Polling shows that half of Americans have been personally economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — losing their job or having their hours cut back. Congress must provide help by working with local and state elected officials and agencies to ensure workers, families and small businesses get the resources they need to make it through the pandemic and mitigate the harmful consequences of the economic slow-down.
State residents cannot afford excuses from Congressional leaders who prioritize tax giveaways for the rich and corporations over the basic needs of average people or more delays that will double down on prolonged pain for millions.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig, Executive Director, 414-322-5324, firstname.lastname@example.org
Americans for Tax Fairness, Chris Fleming, Red Horse Strategies, 202-631-0929 email@example.com
Health Care for America Now, Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
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