Weeks before the election food assistance boxes bought with taxpayer funds are being sent to those in need with a required new addition: a letter from President Donald Trump directly taking credit for feeding families.
The taxpayer money was spent by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy fresh food from struggling farmers to distribute to families in need due to the pandemic.
The letter printed in English and Spanish on White House letterhead contains advice about hand washing and distance measures then includes a statement from the President reading:
"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."
"We will support Americans' recovery every step of the way. Together we will overcome this challenge, and our Nation will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before."
The letters are printed with Trump's recognizable scribbled signature at the bottom.
This is an interesting stance considering Trump's continued attempts to restrict access to the largest food assistance program in the nation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In fact, the President fought with Federal Courts to do so just months ago with millions out of work due to the virus and unemployment at the highest since the Great Depression.
Trump wanted to reconstruct the program by cutting $180 billion (near 30%) over time in his "war on welfare", even though SNAP accounts for less than 2% of the federal budget .
Food banks and other non-profits are fuming at the blatant politicization of food aid.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks told Politico:
"In my 30 years of doing this work, I've never seen something this egregious. These are federally purchased boxes."
Politico called the requirement "the latest example of Trump using the levers of government and taxpayer dollars for self-promotion as he runs for re-election."
The White House has been promoting the program on social media this week while being clear about giving President Trump credit for the taxpayer purchased produce.
Twitter users had a few thoughts on this action.
Eric Kessler, founder of Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy consulting firm commented saying:
"These guys should be handing out food and instead they're talking to campaign attorneys because of these d**n letters."
"It's a brazen attempt at vote buying targeted at the neediest,"
In mid-summer Ivanka Trump heralded the program, despite her father's active policy efforts at the time to restrict food access for needy Americans.
The letters did not become mandatory until this close to the election.
Democrats say the letters are unlawful.
Catherine Drennan, director of communications and public affairs at the Greater Boston Food Bank, confirmed the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) emergency food boxes letter condition.
"It is our understanding that the [U.S. Agriculture Department] is requiring all CFAP-contracted vendors to include this letter in every CFAP food box,"
"We've made it clear to our partners: We are not placing this letter in the box. We do not endorse any presidential candidate and have no connection to the letter and the inclusion of the letter in these boxes."
Chief government relations officer at Feeding America, Kate Leone, brought out that food banks are coping with about 60% more need than prior to the pandemic due to record high grocery prices and unemployment rates many American families are finding themselves facing food insecurity for the first time.
Hunger Free America's chief executive Joel Berg said of the letters politicizing food assistance:
"[It] is absolutely outrageous. It essentially blackmails nonpartisan food charities into aiding Trump's reelection campaign by threatening more Americans to go hungry if these food boxes are not distributed. This move by the Trump Administration is illegal and immoral."
The public voiced similar sentiments, many pondering how the U.S. got to this point.
If you are experiencing food insecurity do not hesitate to reach out to a local agency. Charities, youth organizations, churches of different religions, and some schools have all adapted to assist their communities. There is no shame in reaching out when we are all in this together.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and vote November 3.