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America’s hunger crisis grows more severe amid pandemic recession

President Trump’s decision Tuesday to break off talks on a coronavirus relief bill affects millions of Americans who are finding it difficult to afford their basic needs. Nearly half of the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic have yet to be recovered. Hunger, food insecurity and need remain constants as a result. Stephanie Sy reports and talks to Michael Ledger, CEO of Feeding the Gulf Coast.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's decision earlier today to break off talks on a COVID economic relief bill impacts millions of Americans who find it difficult to cover their basic needs.

    Nearly half of the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic have not yet been recovered. Hunger, food insecurity and need remain a constant.

    Stephanie Sy has the latest.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, the most recent survey by the Census Bureau found that more than 18 million American adults said they sometimes or often didn't have enough to eat in the past week.

    A survey in August found, up to 14 percent of adults with kids said their children were in that same boat. Food banks are stretched to the brink.

    Communities in the Gulf Coast have been seeing their share of all of this, a problem that is magnified during hurricane season. The latest storm, Hurricane Delta, is expected to make landfall by the weekend.

    Michael Ledger is the CEO of Feeding the Gulf Coast, and joins me now.

    Michael, thank you so much for your time.

    Give us a sense of how long the lines have been at the food banks, how desperate the need you're seeing there on the Gulf Coast.

  • Michael Ledger:

    Yes, the need has exploded.

    We have seen over 50 percent increase in need. With COVID, it's put people in a very vulnerable position. We had one in six individuals and one in four children struggling with hunger. And we have seen that number now increase to one in five adults and one in three children.

    We just had a mega-food pantry where we distributed approximately 90,000 pounds of food at a large football stadium. The distribution started at 9:00. Cars were lining up at 5:00 a.m. The parking at a large football stadium is ample, and they filled every spot waiting in line for food.

    And we still turned cars away at the end of it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Incredible.

    One in three children in the United States food-insecure. Mike, when you look at who's lining up at those events, what strikes you as most worrying? Are you seeing a lot of families with young children who are hungry?

  • Michael Ledger:

    Absolutely.

    Our child nutrition program has been working around the clock. As a matter of fact, right now, all four of our programs typically wouldn't be running — we currently are running simultaneously right now. And three of those four in Alabama are running.

    We have kids in need impacted amazingly. Folks can — they have to pay the electric bill. It's either on or it's off. But when it comes to food, you might try to stretch your budget. And when you do that, of course, you leave yourself food-insecure.

    And with schools being closed or kids unable to go to school, the need for supplemental nutrition is increased dramatically.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It now appears that the White House is not going to make a deal with Democrats on more coronavirus relief funding before the election, which could also tie up food assistance benefits.

    Michael, if Washington could see what you're seeing on the ground, what would they be doing?

  • Michael Ledger:

    I think, if they were on the ground, they would see people impacted every day, those that weren't vulnerable, because their jobs have been eliminated or they have been — reduced the hours, if a restaurant is only working at 50 percent capacity on limited hours.

    Of course, the parents aren't bringing home the paychecks they would have. We have people that are in our lines, a gentleman named Terry just the other day that came. He had four children, four girls all under the age of 7, had lost a job due to COVID, and did not know how he was going to feed him.

    When he left, he was teary-eyed and thanking us for making sure that he knew how he was going to put food on the table for his kids that week.

    I think, when you tell stories like that to someone, they can feel the impact. And we certainly hope that our legislators are aware of those situations. And we believe they are.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Michael, you're also in the midst of a historically active hurricane season, with yet another hurricane heading your way this weekend. How is that affecting operations?

  • Michael Ledger:

    Yes.

    As we respond to COVID and now Sally just three weeks out, having put out 18 million meals since COVID, with 1.5 million meals for Sally, our folks are stretched thin, have been working really hard. I'm so proud of the team.

    Obviously, we're even in a more vulnerable spot. And all those that were impacted by Sally are — find themselves even more vulnerable now. So we're going to be working around the clock to try to make sure that we're addressing the needs that arise as it pertains to hunger, with Delta bearing down on us. We hope to be ready and up for the challenge.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And I hope your teams stay safe as you do this important work.

    Michael Ledger, CEO and president of Feeding the Gulf Coast, thank you.

  • Michael Ledger:

    Thank you.

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