Tax the Rich, Feed the Poor

Tax the rich.

It’s a sentiment a majority of Americans agree with. It seems like an  uncomplicated message. Yet the months-long battle in the Senate over President Biden’s sweeping and essential infrastructure and social structure bills hinges in part on this issue. Biden wants anyone with an income of $400,000 or above to pay their fair share in taxes, which in turn will help pay for the costs in his Build Back Better Act.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness, the net worth of U.S. billionaires has almost doubled since the pandemic began. It was $5.04 trillion in October.

Among those who would pay their fair share in taxes under the Democrats’ plan are several of the world’s wealthiest men: Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Bill Gates among them. All three managed to avoid paying any taxes at all in recent years, even as their personal wealth increased exponentially and particularly, as noted, during the pandemic. 

On Oct. 26, headlines announced that Musk, now the world’s richest man, was on board to become the world’s first trillionaire as Tesla cruised toward that number. But parallel to those headlines were Musk’s comments on the  Democrats’ billionaires tax plan. Musk tweeted: “Eventually, they run out of other people’s money and then they come for you.”

It would take a very long time to “run out of” Musk’s money, and so far no one — not even the IRS, which comes for everyone — has come for Musk. Musk accrues more than $500 million per day and his wealth is now more than Exxon Mobil, the wealthiest oil company in the U.S. and the second wealthiest in the world after Saudi Aramco. 

The announcement of Musk’s trillionaire status — a number most of us can’t envision and a number no one person should have — was met with a direct plea from the executive director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme: Use that wealth to solve world hunger, which is massively on the rise.

In a CNN interview on Oct. 26, David Beasley was succinct: “Billionaires need to step up now, on a one-time basis.” 

Many nations, the former Republican governor of South Carolina told CNN, are “knocking on famine’s door.”

Musk and Bezos, who Beasley noted by name, wouldn’t even miss the small amount of their massive wealth that Beasley is asking for: two percent. He said, “$6 billion to help 42 million people that are literally going to die if we don’t reach them. It’s not complicated.”

No, it’s not complicated. 

Anyone who has ever been hungry — truly hungry and without food — knows how all-encompassing that feeling is. And hunger is pandemic in the world’s Global South and is even endemic to large swathes of the U.S. Some nations in the Global South — Somalia, Yemen, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Sierra-Leone and Liberia — are in various stages of outright famine. 

Closer to home, Haiti’s food shortage is so severe that Haitian refugees have been fleeing to the U.S. in search of food and safety, much to the consternation of Republicans hand-wringing at the border.

In the U.S., hunger/food insecurity is also rife, if far less obvious. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 11.1 percent of American households experienced hunger in 2019. Food insecurity is defined as having limited access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. The states with the highest percentages of American households who experienced hunger are in the South and Southwest: Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas.

The percentage of people suffering from food insecurity and hunger in those states ranges from 13.1% in Texas to 15.7% in Mississippi and West Virginia. 

However, despite the geography of affected states, the most food insecure big city in America is not in the South or Southwest. It is right here: Philadelphia, the poorest big city in America. 

Currently, according to local food distribution non-profit Philabundance and national nonprofit Hunger Free America, nearly one in five Philadelphians suffers from food insecurity.

Within those hundreds of thousands of hungry Philadelphians are a stunning number of LGBTQ people. The pandemic — which Beasley called part of the “perfect storm” creating food insecurity globally, along with climate crises — left millions out of work and struggling financially. 

And as I have been reporting since early in the pandemic, LGBTQ people have been hit hardest by the confluence of economic crises. Food insecurity is part of that.

In August I reported how new survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that LGBT adults in the U.S. are nearly twice as likely to be experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic than non-LGBT adults. 

Additionally, the Williams Institute reported that some LGBT communities, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and adults with children, are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. In the previous year 27% of LGBTQ adults experienced food insecurity — a full 10% more than non-LGBTQ adults. 

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is another way to assess risk for food insecurity. To qualify for SNAP benefits, a person or household must meet poverty-level income and resource thresholds.

On September 23, the White House issued a fact sheet: “Biden-Harris Administration Commit to End Hunger and Malnutrition and Build Sustainable Resilient Food Systems” in which they laid out plans to “develop innovative, inclusive, science-based, and creative solutions to food systems transformation.”

Will the billionaires heed Beasley’s call for two percent of their vast wealth to keep 42 million people from starving? Given what we know about Musk and Bezos, it seems unlikely. And in 2020, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a two percent wealth tax, Bill Gates whined that he could be left with nothing.

And what of LGBTQ people and others comprising the 20% of people in Philadelphia suffering from food insecurity? That remains an open question that no one seems able to answer while the rich keep getting richer.
If you are in need of food in Philadelphia, call Philabundance at 215-339-0900 and the Share Food Program at 215-223-2220 for free food. Also, the Mazzoni Center has a Food Bank which you can sign up for online or via phone at 215-563-0652 ext 221.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.