Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are among the US billionaires who have become richer in the coronavirus crisis.

Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The Id / Seth Wenig/AP / Mandel Mgan/AP via Getty Imahes

The first three months of the coronavirus pandemic saw six million people sign up to receive food stamps, while the wealth of America’s superrich grew by almost 20%, according to multiple reports. 

The demand for food stamps grew by around 17% between February and May, and around one in eight Americans now receive them, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Meanwhile, by the beginning of June — roughly the same period the food stamps program saw its fastest-ever expansion, according to The Times — the wealth of the country’s richest people had increased by around $565 trillion, an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies found.

Food stamp demand could grow even more

America’s wealth gap may be set to widen further.

Thirty of the 42 states analysed by The Times experienced double-digit growth in demand for the benefit, with Florida — which depends strongly on the hospitality industry — seeing the biggest demand. 

Walmart shoppers, pictured in November 2019.

Associated Press

During the pandemic, President Donald Trump has accelerated access to what is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The Times reported.  

The streamlining of SNAP suspended reviews of existing cases in order to focus on new ones, which in turn could be processed without interviews, according to The Times.

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At the same time, the expiration of the CARES Act — which offers an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits — is due to expire on or before the end of July, according to the Department of Labor. The benefit disqualifies people from SNAP.

The Trump administration signaled in June that it could replace the $600 benefit with a bonus for those who get back into work, according to USA Today. But this could end up fueling even greater demand for food stamps, as millions more would then be eligible. 

It’s been a very different pandemic for billionaires

During the same period of uncertainty for millions of Americans, an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies think tank found that the wealth of the very richest has grown by almost 20%, as Business Insider’s Taylor Nicole Rogers reported. 

Elon Musk.

AP Photo

The net worth of Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan has increased by more than $2 billion since March, according to the think tank.

Between January and April, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wealth had grown by $25 billion, the think tank found. As of July,  that figure was was at $75 billion, according to The Guardian.

Some of the world’s billionaires have made high-profile donations, usually in the millions, to causes aimed at alleviating the coronavirus crisis. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $100 million to research a vaccine, and Mark Zuckerberg has donated $25 million to their initiative. 

Yet an analysis by wealth research firm WealthX noted that only 10% of the world’s billionaires were actually donating. 

Other members of the superrich have argued that philanthropy is not an effective form of coronavirus relief. In July, a group of 83 millionaires — most of whom were in the US — signed an open letter calling on governments to tax them “immediately. Substantially. Permanently.”

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