Walmart has returned $12.6 million in government funds that were intended for medical providers hard hit by the coronavirus.
As first revealed by Politico, the mega retailer received the stimulus money from the Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the CARES Act’s Provider Relief Fund, which is meant to offset health care-related expenses or lost revenue by doctors and hospitals.
In a statement provided to FN, a company spokesperson said, “Walmart did not request support from the Provider Relief Fund to get through this crisis. The Fund is intended to help hospitals and frontline medical providers, so we quickly contacted the Department of Health and Human Services about the disbursement and returned the funds.”
Between April 10-17, HHS distributed $30 billion in automatic payments to groups that received Medicare fee-for-service payments in 2019. According to the department, it used that approach in order to “get the money out the door as quickly as possible.”
After receiving the funds unexpectedly, Walmart sent a letter on April 23 to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking how to return the payout.
“We recognize your automatic disbursement of funds through the additional CARES Act funding triggered payment,” the letter reads. “Respectfully, we would request detailed information on the process to decline the payments, as we will be returning these funds to HHS. Additionally, Walmart and its affiliates request to be excluded from any and all future funds disbursements through the PHSSEF [Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund].”
Though the COVID-19 outbreak has devastated many retailers, Walmart has seen major sales bumps due to heightened demand for essential products.
A report posted in The Wall Street Journal found that the retailer’s in-store sales surged nearly 20% in March compared with the same four weeks the prior year. On its website, sales jumped more than 30% over an eight-week period, while downloads of its online grocery mobile app also saw sharp upticks.
However, the retailer has received some backlash for perceived inadequate COVID-19-related precautions. Earlier this month, four United States senators — Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown and Richard Blumenthal — penned a letter urging Walmart to improve safety for its front-line workers following reports that several employees have died of the coronavirus.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has responded by giving front-line workers a cash boost. Last week Walmart announced it has paid over $365 million in bonuses to associates, with more to come in May.