Earlier this year, 32 states cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, prompting experts to warn of a “hunger cliff.” The move came at a difficult time for recipients, with inflation at record highs and the phasing out of COVID benefits.
According to Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, the largest national hunger relief organization, 34 million people in the United States are food insecure “to some degree.” In practical terms, that means “you can’t reasonably predict where your meals will come from,” Babineaux-Fontenot told an audience in New York this week at the annual meeting of the fast business Impact Council.
Still, she claimed the number, staggering as it is, does not paint the full picture. Many more people are actually food insecure and have to seek food from alternative methods, such as going directly to food banks, religious services, etc. Babineaux-Fontenot said that while people in the United States may disagree on many points, the fact that millions of Americans are struggling with hunger is not exactly up for debate. Feeding them shouldn’t be controversial, she says.
“America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet tens of millions of people here are struggling to make ends meet,” Babineaux-Fontenot said, adding that these struggles affect everyone, not just people who can’t afford to buy groceries. . “Everyone benefits when we tackle these issues. . . If you care about finances and financial stimuli, you should care about hunger. That’s because a basic need like food affects everything: the workforce, education, health outcomes, the elderly and children.
Nonetheless, people are divided on what to do about the hunger crisis or how much we should care about hungry people, Babineaux-Fontenot continued. Many oppose SNAP benefits, for example, because fraud exists in the program, to which she says, of course, it does. “Are there people in SNAP? she joked. “If there are people in SNAP, of course there is fraud.”
But she insisted the organization actually had “one of the lowest fraud rates of any government program”. Also, the program does not provide financial support, just food, which so many people need. Moreover, it is “complementary”, underlines Babineaux-Fontenot, that is to say that it only aims to lighten the load. Beneficiaries are still responsible for purchasing many of their own groceries.
While Feeding America has put ‘impact’ on ‘credit’ for its efforts, the group’s CEO wants people to know and trust the organization, which is far more massive than most people know. . “We work harder to help people realize who we are. . . she said. Speaking about the reach of the group, she said that during the pandemic, when supply chain disruption impacted everything, the network “provided meals to over 60 million people” That amounts to 6.7 billion meals.
Yet funding has plummeted since the pandemic ended, she says, meaning the organization is now getting less food, even though demand is up. Babineaux-Fontenot says businesses can help by hosting food banks or donating food, as well as donating real dollars that go back into the community.
These donations are not only used to buy food, but also for initiatives to ensure that people are not always dependent on the network. She believes businesses can be a powerful ally for Feeding America, and when they say benefits like SNAP are important to them, it can set a tremendous example.