Since May the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed more than 100 million boxes to those in need. The goal of the program is provide the needy with much-needed food while redirecting meat, dairy and produce, which would normally go to restaurants and other food-service businesses that had reduced demand due to the pandemic.
For an untold number of food insecure families those boxes have been a godsend. Last week those families began receiving a little something extra in those boxes: a letter bearing the bold signature of Donald Trump claiming credit for the program.
As reported today by Politico, “Organizations handing out the aid complain the program is now being used to bolster Trump’s image a month before a high-stakes election — and some even have refused to distribute them.”
“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 Agriculture Department last week began mandating that millions of boxes of surplus food for needy families include a letter from Trump claiming credit for the program. @politico https://t.co/LfUsAMGh36
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) October 1, 2020
The organizations are concerned that by including Trump’s “Dear Family” letters in the food boxes that they distribute, it could be construed as political activity and jeopardize their non-profit status.
“These guys should be handing out food and instead they’re talking to campaign attorneys because of these damn letters,” said Eric Kessler, founder of Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy consulting firm, and a longtime player in Democratic politics. “It’s a brazen attempt at vote buying targeted at the neediest.”
In part because of the letters, the Oregon Food Bank recently has stopped participating in the program. The CEO of the organization, Susannah Morgan, wrote in a statement that “there are real questions as to whether food assistance organizations can ethically distribute such a message with an election looming in mere weeks.”
This use of taxpayer dollars for self-promotion in advance of the election is similar to Trump’s insistence that letters with his signature be included with stimulus checks sent to millions of Americans during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.