- USDA is mandating the inclusion of a letter from President Trump in millions of boxes of surplus food for families in need
- USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed more than 100 million boxes to those in need since May
- The Trump administration denied the letter was political or improper
The U.S. Agriculture Department began mandating last week that millions of boxes of surplus food for families in need include a letter from President Donald Trump claiming credit for the program, Politico reported.
The USDA’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed more than 100 million boxes to those in need since May. Food pantries and shelters handing out the aid complain the program is now being used to bolster Trump’s image a month before the election.
“In my 30 years of doing this work, I’ve never seen something this egregious,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks. “These are federally purchased boxes.”
The letter comes in both English and Spanish. At the top of the letter is the White House masthead and at the bottom is Trump’s signature with a message saying: “As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities. As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.”
This is the latest maneuver the Trump administration has used to promote the president ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The aid program uses taxpayer money to distribute the food, but the letter makes it appear it’s the result of Trump’s largesse.
This isn’t the first time the president has tried to make it appear he is responsible for a government program. At the height of the pandemic, the president enclosed letters with his signature to millions of Americans getting stimulus checks authorized by the CARES Act, which was enacted by Congress.
The Trump administration denied the moves were political or improper.
“Politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program,” the Agriculture Department said. “It is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time.”
Fox News reported in July that letters would be included in some of the aid boxes over the summer. However, the USDA now requires the letters to be added to all boxes distributed by companies with government contracts.
“It’s almost like an escalation,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who chairs a panel overseeing nutrition on the House Agriculture Committee. “Before they were optional. Now they are demanding that they go in every box.”
“This is supposed to be about helping hungry people,” Fudge added. “It is one of the worst things I’ve seen in a long time.”
In Oregon, select food banks stopped participating in the program due to the letters. The CEO of the Oregon Food Bank, Susannah Morgan, said there “are real questions as to whether food assistance organizations can ethically distribute such a message with an election looming in mere weeks.”
Some foodbanks told pantries and nonprofits to open the boxes when they arrive and take the letters out.
“We are a nonpartisan organization,” said Greg Trotter, a spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “While the content of the letter is not overtly political, we think it’s inappropriate to include a letter from any political candidate just weeks from an election.”