Mackenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has announced that she is donating $4.2 billion to charities around the U.S., including in Maine. America's billionaires have seen their collective wealth increase by more than $1 trillion since the pandemic began in March. Credit: Evan Agostini / Invision/AP

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The Christmas season is often one characterized by charity. Even Scrooges and Grinches can be convinced to give a little and to help the less fortunate.

We understand that real life is no Christmas carol, but at a time when millions of Americans are facing hunger, unemployment and the potential loss of their homes, we can’t help but wonder why America’s most fortunate aren’t doing more to help.

Consider this analysis from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies: The 651 billionaires in America have seen their collective wealth increase by more than $1 trillion since the pandemic began in mid-March. This assessment was made in early December, so their gains have likely grown since then.

To put that into a little perspective. The financial gains of these 651 people exceed the total pricetag of the latest stimulus plan being considered by Congress. That package is worth a little more than $900 billion.

The two groups calculated that if America’s billionaires gave their recent wealth gains to the American people, they could give each person about $3,000. Again, that’s more than Congress is currently contemplating sending to qualified Americans in the form of relief checks.

The billionaires’ combined wealth gains in the last nine months are double the two-year estimated budget gap of all state and local governments, which is forecast to be at least $500 billion, the groups note. The relief bill that is expected to soon emerge for congressional votes does not include relief for state, local and tribal governments.

Private philanthropy should not be expected to replace government aid programs. But imagine if these wealthy men and women chose to invest their recent windfall in their fellow Americans. In short, it would do a lot of good.

We realize that many wealthy individuals and families give lots of money to charitable causes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has issued nearly $55 billion in grants to support education, health care and equality around the world. Jeff Bezos recently pledged $10 billion to address climate change.

But, right now, here in America, millions of people are struggling as coronavirus cases rise and small businesses struggle to stay open. Investing directly in these people now would pay big dividends and it would markedly improve their lives.

Mackenzie Scott, the richest woman in American, recently announced that she was giving $4.2 billion to 384 nonprofit organizations around the country. The donations include $10 million to Coastal Enterprises Inc. and undisclosed amounts to Good Shepherd Food Bank and Goodwill of Northern New England.

CEI will use some of the money immediately to help “ensure that families and communities recover and thrive” after the pandemic, the organization said in a message on Facebook. Good Shepherd plans to use Scott’s donation to accelerate and amplify its work to end hunger in Maine, its President Kristen Miale said.

When she divorced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, Scott received Amazon shares that are now worth $62 billion. To give you an idea about just how well the megarich are doing right now, those shares were valued at $37 billion just last year.

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty,” Scott wrote in a blog post this week. “Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

Scott has signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Bezos has not signed on. Pledge or no pledge, the wealthy should not be waiting to give in this moment of great need.

Some direct relief has already come from political campaigns, which often amass huge sums of money and are allowed to put it toward charitable giving. Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon announced in early December that her campaign is donating a total of $350,000 to two charities that provide hunger and heating assistance in Maine. That is great news, but with a reported $14 million left over from her unsuccessful campaign, it would seem that Gideon could do even more for Mainers in need. Everyone with the available resources should be considering how they can do more for others right now.

Ongoing grassroots efforts, including many in Maine, are noble and making a valuable difference in peoples’ lives. But, the impact could be so much greater if America’s billionaires followed Scott’s lead with cash now.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...