Transcript: Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot on "Face the Nation," May 17, 2020

Feeding America seeing 60% spike in demand amid pandemic, CEO says

The following is a transcript of an interview with Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot that aired Sunday, May 17, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Dallas and Claire Babineaux-Fontenot. She is the CEO of Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger relief organization. Good morning to you.

CEO OF FEEDING AMERICA CLAIRE BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We've heard the statistics in terms of who is most vulnerable and how hard they are getting hit. We also know that food prices had their biggest spike in decades just last month. This seems like the perfect storm. What are you seeing at your facilities right now? Who is coming and what do they need? 

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Well, MARGARET, I think you use the right term. It is, in fact, the perfect storm. We're seeing a marked increase in demand to the tune of, on average, 60 percent more people showing up in need of our services. And at the- at the time that we're having that increase in demand, we have a decrease in donations. We have an increase in cost of food, and we have a decrease in volunteers. So it is, in fact, a perfect storm. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: How're--

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: So many of the people who are coming. Oh, I'm so sorry, please finish-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: No please - So how are you managing that? And is- is the person that you are serving now, as challenging as it is, different from what you saw just a few months ago? Is it a different demographic? 

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Yeah, that's exactly what I was going to say, that 40 percent on average of the people that we're seeing now have never relied upon the charitable food system before now. So we're definitely seeing different people showing up. So many of the people who are there, they're kind of familiar to us. Some of the people who were donors are now in line in need of our services. So there's been a change, to be sure. But one of the things that I think the American public simply wasn't aware of is that even before this pandemic, there were nearly 40 million people who were food insecure and over 11 million of them were children. So we've had a challenge for a while. This pandemic has just heightened that challenge. And a lot of people are in need of help right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know things like diapers aren't covered by food stamps. Are items like that what you need at your facilities? What are you looking for right now to serve in particular those children?

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Well, we need a whole host of things. First and foremost, we need food. So what we have done is we've had a remarkable outpouring of support from across the country in- in terms of dollars so that we can purchase food. We've also had some assistance from the Congress and some of the legislation that's already been passed. Some help from the administration in the form of deregulation so that we're able to provide that food in a new way. But there continues to be a need. I- I don't know that I mention that so far, the members of our network just since March have provided over a billion meals to people facing hunger. But our estimates are that over the course of the next 12 months, that the need just inside of our system is over eight billion. So big need, and across all of those indices that you just described. Absolutely. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Brookings said one in five American children are going hungry. I know you just told us about the pain you're seeing, particularly with kids. 41 percent of mothers with children's ages 12 and under report food insecurity. What is it- I've read that you need food and items from manufacturers,--

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --not necessarily from individuals. Explain what's changed. What do you mean by that?

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT:  Well, I- I don't know that I would- I would limit it just to- to manufacturers, so maybe the best thing for me to do is to start from the top and say what the hierarchy are of things that we think are absolutely essential right now. You mentioned SNAP just a few moments ago. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Food stamps.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Truly SNAP is the- yes, formerly known as food stamps. Thank you for that. For every one meal that we're able to provide in the charitable food system, SNAP can provide nine. And one of the interesting things about SNAP is not only is it good for people right now in the middle- in the middle of a pandemic and an emergency, but it's also good for the economy. We have data that shows that for every dollar invested in SNAP, the return is $1.70. So there are lots of good reasons for all of us to be thinking about and urging our members of Congress to pass additional legislation so that we can increase access to SNAP and so that we can increase the thresholds in terms of how much people can receive from SNAP. So that's- that's first and foremost. Secondly, as I mentioned before, we- we're doing, by the way, may I take the opportunity to just acknowledge the remarkable people in this network and in other non-profits as well who are really stepping up to this challenge and providing these services to people when they need it. But the gap hasn't closed. We've done- we did some analysis that showed, over a six month window, our analysis showed that in our network alone that the gap was about $1.4 billion. That assumed--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So those three billion that the USDA is doing in terms of taking food from farmers and bringing it to banks, that's not solving the issue?

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: Well, it's helping, and we hope it will help. It's early days, and we're going to do everything in our power to make that program successful--

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: --because an additional three billion dollars in food would- would certainly be helpful right now. But the gap still won't be closed, even with that effort. So my encouragement to your audience and to members of Congress and the administration--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: --and people all across the country is let's just keep trying to help--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.

BABINEAUX-FONTENOT: --and we can close this gap together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We agree with you. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.

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