The Department of Agriculture is mandating that letters from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE be included in millions of food assistance boxes, according to Politico.
The $4 billion Families to Farmers Food Box Program has distributed 100 million boxes already, the USDA announced Wednesday. The program delivers surplus goods that would normally go to restaurants to families experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Organizations tasked with distributing the food have complained that the messaging and campaign-like letters included in the boxes appear to have the goal of boosting the president’s image ahead of 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, told Politico. “These are federally purchased boxes.”
The fact that the letters were included in some of the boxes was first reported by Fox News in July. On Wednesday the White House posted a campaign-style video on Twitter touting the food boxes with remarks Trump made in North Carolina in August before a crowd of a few hundred people.
The letter, which comes in English and Spanish, says: “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.”
Some lawmakers have argued that the letters could potentially violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials besides the president and vice president from engaging in politics in their official capacity.
“Using a federal relief program to distribute a self-promoting letter from the President to American families just three months before the presidential election is inappropriate and a violation of federal law,” a group of 49 House Democrats, led by Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeThis week: House returns for pre-election sprint House to tackle funding, marijuana in September Honoring John Lewis’s voting rights legacy MORE of Ohio, wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueTrump administration finalizes plan to open up protected areas of Tongass National Forest to logging Perdue has found the right path in National Forests Democrats seek clarity on payroll tax deferral for federal workers MORE.
“A public health crisis is not an opportunity for the administration to promote its own political interests. Likewise, a federal food assistance program should not be used as a tool for the President to exploit taxpayer dollars for his re-election campaign.”
In a statement to The Hill, the Agriculture Department said “politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program — it is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time.”
The agency noted the letters have been included for months but did not answer questions about the mandate Politico reported. The Agriculture Department’s response also included positive statements about the program from Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci calls for racial and ethnic diversity in coronavirus vaccine trials Fauci says his mask stance was ‘taken out of context’ by Trump Ocasio-Cortez, Warren pull out of New Yorker Festival amid labor dispute MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association – Country reacts to debate night of mudslinging Ex-Watergate prosecutor predicts Trump will be charged for tax evasion after he leaves office Five takeaways from NYT Trump taxes bombshell MORE, the president’s daughter and senior adviser.