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The COVID-19 crisis in Grand Rapids and the Wealth of the Meijer & DeVos families

April 2, 2020

It has been clear since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that the US government has decided to not really meet the needs of the public, particularly those most vulnerable to contracting the virus.

The so-called stimulus bill, while providing some mild relief for millions of Americans, was mostly a massive bailout for Wall Street, corporate America and the investor class. The current crisis has further exposed the fallacies of capitalism and the priorities of the federal government. There is not a lack of funding to make sure that everyone is safe, has access to health care, food and other basic needs during this crisis. The issue then, is about priorities, particularly how the Capitalist class is prioritized at the expense of everyone else.

In Grand Rapids, there are thousands of people who are out of work, don’t have enough food and are faced with housing costs they cannot meet. There are hundreds who are homeless, and thousands who are faced with potentially high health care costs if they get tested for COVID-19. There are literally thousands of people who are worried about whether or not they can afford to be tested, thus increasing the likelihood that many will not get tested out of fear they will go into massive debt over health care costs. This is very, very frightening. People should not have to worry about the costs of testing for the virus and they should not have to worry about have equal access to health care resources should they test positive.

However, the hospitals in Grand Rapids are already acknowledging that they may not have adequate resources to handle the potential numbers of infected. This reality also exposes the failure of the for-profit health care system, which puts profits above the well being of people. Here again, it is not a matter of money, but of priorities.

For instance, if we look at the wealth of the two richest families in Grand Rapids, the DeVos and Meijer families, which according to the 2017 Forbes 400 list, was a combined wealth of $12.6 Billion. Doug & Hank Meijer were worth $7.2 Billion in 2018 and Richard DeVos was worth $5.4 Billion in 2018, the same year he died. Now, this doesn’t include the wealth of the other DeVos family members, which would easily put the total over $15 Billion between these two families.

What the combined wealth of the Meijer and DeVos family could translate into, is that NO ONE in Grand Rapids would have to worry about not working during the COVID-19 crisis, EVERYONE would have access to testing, proper health care, food, housing and any other basic needs. The JW Marriott just announced that they were closing, which means there are hundreds of empty bed that could be used by individuals and families who are facing a housing crisis right now. The wealth of the Meijer and DeVos families could translate into our ability in Kent County to truly flatten the curve and minimize the number of deaths from COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we know that the Meijer and DeVos families will not give up significant amounts of their combined $15 Billion in order to save lives in Kent County. These two families have demonstrated for decades that they are more interested in maintaining and expanding their wealth than they are in the well being of all residents of Kent County.

People reading this might be saying, “well, it’s their money, they can do what they want with it.” First, this completely ignores the fact that these two families made their wealth off the labor of others. Secondly, and more to the current crisis, the Meijer and DeVos families do not have the right to maintain their disgusting amounts of wealth, while hundreds or thousands in Grand Rapids die from the COVID-19 virus. Their failure to act in the midst of this pandemic would be their real legacy.

As an alternative, if you are willing to contribute a few dollars to provide some relief to people who are currently struggling to survive in Grand Rapids, please consider donating to the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network

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