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The rich get richer: Seven Virginia billionaires grow net worth during COVID-19 shutdown

covid-19 economy
(© Alexander Borisenko –

Seven Virginia billionaires collectively saw their wealth increase by $5.2 billion during the first three months of the COVID-19 shutdown, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness, Health Care for America Now and Virginia Organizing.

Between March 18 — the rough start date of the shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place — and June 17, the total net worth of the state’s seven billionaires rose from $41.2 billion to $47.9 billion, based on an analysis of Forbes data.

Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, and the most recent real-time data was collected on June 17 from the Forbes website.

Four Virginia billionaires — Jacqueline Mars, Pamela Mars, Daniel D’Aniello and William Conway Jr. — saw their wealth grow a combined $5.04 trillion.

Over approximately the same period of the pandemic, 822,000 of the state’s residents lost their jobs.

Low-wage workerspeople of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities.

Over the same three-month period, the nation’s 600-plus billionaires saw their combined wealth increase by $584 billion — 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.

The total number of billionaires grew from 614 to 643.

“Virginia’s essential workers in the poultry plants and nursing homes have been hard hit by the virus,” said Del McWhorter, chairperson of Virginia Organizing. “Meanwhile, our cities have mostly been too small to receive any of the funds in the CARES package. That’s why more than 140 public officials signed our letter calling on Congress to fund Medicaid and provide relief funds to municipalities. Instead Congress gave billions to people who didn’t need it. These decisions perpetuate the systemic racism that was always present but is even more of a crisis right now with so many urgent problems like eviction and hunger facing all Virginians.”

“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 Virginia groups, is urging repeal of the Millionaires Giveaway tax cut for wealthy business owners. So far, 24 senators support legislation (S. 3640) to repeal this giveaway but not Virginia’s two Democratic senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

augusta free press
augusta free press