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Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump's daughter and senior adviser, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tour Coastal Sunbelt Produce's Distribution Center in Laurel, Maryland, on May 15 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

'Cruel, Crass, and Illegal': Democrats Slam Inclusion of Trump-Signed Letters in Federal Food Boxes

"Trump and his minions have been trying to yank food from hungry children and families and he is now putting notes in pandemic food boxes to claim credit."

Jake Johnson

Congressional Democrats are accusing the White House of violating federal law by including a "self-promoting" letter signed by President Donald Trump in government food aid boxes, a move critics slammed as particularly cynical given the administration's ongoing efforts to rip nutrition benefits from millions of low-income Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The Trump White House is using your tax dollars to advertise on stimulus checks and food relief packages. How many more Americans could be fed if federal funds weren't used on these illegal stunts?"
—Julián Castro

"Trump and his minions have been trying to yank food from hungry children and families and he is now putting notes in pandemic food boxes to claim credit," tweeted Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.). "This is cruel, crass, and illegal but gangsters like Trump don't care."

As ProPublica reported Tuesday, "Millions of Americans who are struggling to put food on the table may discover a new item in government-funded relief packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and meat: a letter signed by President Donald Trump."

The letters (pdf), included in packages distributed as part of the Agriculture Department's Farmers to Families Food Box program, proclaim that Trump has "prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America."

"This pandemic has brought many hardships on millions of hardworking individuals and communities through no fault of their own," reads Trump's note, which encourages recipients to adhere to basic Covid-19 precautions that the president himself has publicly flouted. "We will support America's recovery every step of the way. Together, we will overcome this challenge, and our Nation will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before."

In a letter (pdf) to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last month, 49 House Democrats wrote that "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," citing the Hatch Act's prohibition on executive branch employees using their official capacity to influence an election.

"A public health crisis is not an opportunity for the administration to promote its own political interests," the lawmakers wrote. "Likewise, a federal food assistance program should not be used as a tool for the president to exploit taxpayer dollars for his reelection campaign."

The food box letters are just Trump's latest attempt to claim credit for pandemic response measures by attaching his name to federal programs. In April, as Common Dreams reported, the Treasury Department delayed mailing tens of millions of one-time $1,200 stimulus payments approved by Congress in order to put Trump's name on the checks.

Along with the checks, Trump mailed a signed one-page letter to 90 million Americans declaring that his administration is "working around the clock to protect hardworking Americans like you from the consequences of the economic shutdown."

"I have to wonder how much personal protective equipment could have been purchased with what it cost for Trump to send out this vanity letter," one Portland, Oregon resident told the Washington Post.

Feeding America, a nonprofit anti-hunger group, told ProPublica that Trump's nutrition box letters have shown up sporadically at food banks in its network. "It's not across the board," said Kate Leone, chief government relations officer for the organization.

Mark Quandt, the executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, said that "as a non-profit, we would have to take the letter out of the boxes if they were included because we can't publicly support political candidates."

On top of concerns about the Trump-signed letter, Democratic lawmakers have also raised alarm over the administration's distribution of large federal contracts under the Farmers to Families Food Box program.

"Under your leadership, USDA has granted large contracts to middlemen that lacked the ability to deliver food they agreed to provide," Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) wrote in a letter (pdf) to Perdue last week. "Rather than focusing on addressing these problems, the administration appears to be seeking political benefits from the program, including by inserting a letter signed by President Trump in food boxes."

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