What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

More Americans are going hungry amid economic crisis — and many can’t get help

The current economic crisis means rising demand for food stamps. While Congress has passed additional benefits for some recipients, a large percentage of the poorest households did not get an increase. Meanwhile, many people, from college students now at home to those at high-risk for COVID-19, are facing new complications in accessing their benefits. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The economic crisis also means that demand for food stamps will swell.

    While Congress did pass additional benefits for some recipients, a high percentage of the poorest households didn't get an increase. Questions over additional money will undoubtedly be debated in Congress in the weeks to come. But many people are already facing complications when using their benefits right now.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story for our series Making Sense.

  • Paul Solman:

    A mile-long line at a Pittsburgh food bank, and it's hardly unique.

    Dave Wellons manages a food warehouse in El Paso, Texas.

  • Dave Wellons:

    Usually, by 8:00 in the morning, there's vehicles lined up a mile to a mile-and-a-half long.

  • Paul Solman:

    Michael Lopez is in New York.

  • Michael Lopez:

    There's a tremendous need.

    Typically, The Hungry Monk Rescue Truck serves about 200 meals a week in our food pantry. Over the past 35 days, that number has grown to about 2,000 families that we are serving.

  • Brooklyn Dotson:

    I don't have any income coming in. I don't get any food stamps. It's just hard to get any help right now.

  • Paul Solman:

    Nashville's Brooklyn Dotson doesn't get food stamps, not yet anyway, but nearly 40 million Americans do, as so-called SNAP benefits.

    No one is starving, says Hunger Free America's Joel Berg, but:

  • Joel Berg:

    They're rationing food. If this goes on much, much longer, then we could start to see actual starvation in America. We're doing far much worse than any developed Western nation.

  • Paul Solman:

    Economist Hilary Hoynes:

  • Hilary Hoynes:

    Prior to the crisis, about 11 percent of Americans suffered from food insecurity. And we have every reason to believe that those statistics are increasing dramatically in the current time period.

  • Natosha McCray:

    I'm Natosha McCray, and I live in the Bronx, the nation's hungriest urban county. This is my daughter, Ariana, and my son Ethan.

  • Paul Solman:

    Three years ago, McCray was struggling, even with SNAP. But the pandemic has her kids, now 4 and 16, home from school, where they got their morning and afternoon meals. Suddenly, says McCray:

  • Natosha McCray:

    You got to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and with them both being home, everybody is hungry all the time.

  • Paul Solman:

    McCray gets about $550 a month for her family of three. But her income as a tutor to low-income kids has plummeted.

    So, how about free food? She was using New York City's Grab-and-Go school meal program, which expanded to adults on April 3.

  • Natosha McCray:

    And then, shortly between week three and four, when I went to pick up a breakfast or a lunch or two, there weren't any more breakfast or lunch available.

  • Paul Solman:

    Joel Berg isn't surprised.

  • Joel Berg:

    Even in the best of times, the charitable sector only handles a small portion of the need. The federal nutrition assistance programs still provide more than 10 times the dollar amount.

  • Paul Solman:

    But for those like McCray, already getting maximum SNAP benefits before the pandemic…

  • Natosha McCray:

    You have to wear a face mask.

  • Paul Solman:

    … the assistance hasn't gone up, while prices have.

  • Natosha McCray:

    Hamburgers $18.99, $31.99.

  • Paul Solman:

    At least they have in her food desert stretch of the Bronx.

  • Natosha McCray:

    When the pandemic first started, they were gouging prices. I mean, the cost of eggs was around $8.00. Milk was $7.00. Over the past five weeks, it has been a nightmare.

  • Paul Solman:

    And the crisis has caused lots of SNAP snafus.

    Quincy Pettis is home from college, so he isn't getting meals there. But he can't get SNAP either.

  • Quincy Pettis:

    I applied, but they denied me, because they were saying that I would have to work 20 hours.

  • Narrator:

    Your pizza stays untouched from here to your table.

  • Paul Solman:

    He got a job at Domino's Pizza, even though he's taking 21 class credits online, and still no food stamps.

  • Quincy Pettis:

    I would have to go and have my own apartment. But I am currently living with my — at my parents' house.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, because you're living at your parents' house, as opposed to having your own apartment, you're not eligible for SNAP?

  • Quincy Pettis:

    Yes sir, correct.

  • Paul Solman:

    Did you get a stimulus check?

  • Quincy Pettis:

    No, I didn't get a stimulus check.

  • Paul Solman:

    Because he's in college. The rules are a problem for millions of students right now, says Ken Regal of Just Harvest.

  • Ken Regal:

    College students can't get food stamps at school, can't get food stamps at home. The parent can't get food stamps for the child in their household.

    Parent can't get the stimulus payment for the child. And the child, the college student, can't get the stimulus payment of their own. So, it's a quintuple whammy.

  • Paul Solman:

    Are you hungry at all?

  • Quincy Pettis:

    Yes, I am hungry.

  • Paul Solman:

    Another SNAP snafu, online shopping.

    Alisa Grishman, a Pittsburgh disability rights advocate, has six autoimmune diseases.

  • Alisa Grishman:

    The main ones that affect me are multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease. But I also have forms of arthritis. I have diabetes from steroids for my other conditions.

    And so it's extremely dangerous for me to go out. I haven't left my house in a month-and-a-half. If I get sick, I'm going to get very sick.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, if you can't go out, can't you just shop online?

  • Alisa Grishman:

    Unfortunately, no. Pennsylvania doesn't allow you to use your food stamps to order online delivery of any sort of groceries. I also can't use it to do a pickup order and have someone pick it up either.

  • Paul Solman:

    In fact, only six states do allow it, under strict conditions.

  • Ken Regal:

    So, this is a huge problem for large numbers of people, people who are immunocompromised, people who have disabilities, people who have difficulty getting around, people whose buses have been cut.

  • Paul Solman:

    Tens of millions of Americans are food-insecure right now. Doesn't bode well for them or the economy, says Joel Berg emphatically.

  • Joel Berg:

    Even before this crisis, food insecurity cost our economy over $160 billion a year, because hungry children don't learn as well, hungry workers don't work as well, and hungry seniors can't stay independent.

  • Paul Solman:

    And all of their numbers are growing. This is Paul Solman.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest