The Trump administration is including a personalized “self-promoting” letter from the president in government-funded food aid boxes sent to needy families, a practice House Democrats say violates laws against using federal agencies to influence an election. The letter, which has been placed in food boxes distributed through the Farmers to Families Food Box (FFFB) program, touts President Donald Trump’s pandemic response and even encourages recipients to “consider” wearing masks in public–a practice the president has consistently resisted.
“As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities,” the letter signed by Trump read. “As part of our response to the coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America. We are partnering with local organizations, farms, and ranches to ensure that you receive locally-sourced fresh fruits and vegetables as well as dairy and meat products.”
In a letter to Sonny Perdue, the Secretary Agriculture for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 49 House Democrats demanded the letter be removed, claiming it violates the Hatch Act, which prohibits using taxpayer funds in a way intended to affect an election.
“The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from using their official authority or influence for the purposes of affecting the result of an election. Additionally, federal law prohibits any person from commanding, or coercing, any employee of the federal government to engage in, or not to engage in, any political activity,” the lawmakers wrote.
The USDA is the agency that oversees the FFFB program.
House Democrats also accused the Trump administration of exploiting the pandemic, and the government’s response, to score political points for his re-election campaign.
“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,” they wrote in the letter.
In the letter, Trump also claims to urge all Americans to continue following pandemic precaution guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), telling recipients to “practice social distancing and consider wearing a face covering when in public.”
The CDC guidelines, however, go much further than asking people to “consider” wearing a mask. According to the agency’s website, “everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
The president himself has routinely flouted the CDC’s recommendations, as well as local and state health rules. Trump on Sunday held a campaign rally in Nevada where thousands gathered in an indoor arena to hear him speak, despite the state having a 50 person maximum on such gatherings.
Read the letter signed by Trump and House Democrats’ response below:
[image via Chip Somodevilla_Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]