A coalition of anti-hunger groups in Denver announced Wednesday that it has been removing a letter written by President Donald Trump from boxes of food paid for by the federal government before distributing those boxes to needy families.
Under a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called Farmers to Families, boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat are distributed by local nonprofits and anti-hunger organizations. In September, USDA mandated the boxes include a letter from Trump touting the federal program and listing several sanitation tips.
The Denver Community Food Access Coalition says that letter, printed on White House letterhead, is a politicization of federal aid and contains outdated public health information. The letter advises people to “consider wearing a face covering when in public,” rather than directly tell people to wear a face covering.
“Politicizing the one lifeline Colorado families have left during this health pandemic and economic crisis by putting these letters in food boxes is shameful and degrading,” said Christine Alford, executive director of Denver Food Rescue, a member of the food access coalition.
USDA, reached for comment Wednesday, defended the president’s letter, which is printed in both English and Spanish. The letter does not mention the election.
“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 said in an email. “The letter from President Trump has been included for several months now and contains health information that is critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
USDA passed along praise for the Farmers to Families program from Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infection disease specialist, as well as Ivanka Trump, a senior advisEr to the president and his daughter.
Nonprofits across the country have weighed what to do with the Trump letter, fearful of running afoul of prohibitions on partisanship and losing their tax-exempt status if they leave the letter in food boxes. The program, set to end Saturday, reimburses farmers for the food it distributes to families, giving them customers at a time of shrinking distribution to restaurants and schools.
The Denver Community Food Access Coalition is made up of eight nonprofits, as well as the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. In a press release Wednesday, the coalition accused the president of trying to influence next week’s election with the letter.
“We are not pawns in this election,” said Teva Sinicki, CEO of Metro Caring, a member of the coalition. “The largest public health and economic crisis Colorado has ever seen is not the time to exploit taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars and manipulate overworked direct service providers in an attempt to bolster one’s own reelection campaign.”
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