WASHINGTON, D.C. – Warrensville Heights Rep. Marcia Fudge on Friday led a group of Democratic Congress members in a letter objecting to the Agriculture Department’s plans to include a signed letter from President Donald Trump in federally funded food boxes distributed to needy families.
Fudge, who chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, has been a vocal critic of the Agriculture Department’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, which supplies boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meats to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits serving Americans in need.
Friday’s letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue responded to a FoxNews report that said the boxes will contain a letter signed by Trump with information on the latest government coronavirus guidelines. Trump’s letter says that 50 million of the food boxes have already been delivered to American families in need, and urges all Americans to take precautions to avoid spreading the disease, such as hand washing, wearing masks, practicing social distancing and staying home when sick.
“This pandemic has brought many hardships on millions of hardworking individuals and communities through no fault of their own,” says the letter from Trump. “Together, we will overcome this challenge, and our Nation will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before.”
Fudge’s letter, which was also signed by Democratic Congress members Tim Ryan of the Niles area and Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, argues it’s inappropriate and a violation of federal law “to distribute a self-promoting letter from the President to American families just three months before the presidential election.” It also questions whether Trump’s letter violates the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from using their official position to sway elections.
The Congress members’ letter asks Perdue to identify who ordered the inclusion of the President’s letter in food boxes, disclose how the letters are being paid for and explain why the letter is signed by the President on White House letterhead rather than by the Secretary of Agriculture and/or the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“A public health crisis is not an opportunity for the administration to promote its own political interests,” Fudge’s letter said. “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.”
At a July oversight hearing on the program, Fudge said the program was “designed in the dark by USDA, outside of the Farm Bill, in the absence of input from Congress, or experienced agriculture stakeholders and emergency food providers.”
“A program intended to feed the hungry that fails to operate consistently and equitably for all people across this nation, is unacceptable,” she said. “That is not good government and only lends itself to fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. hearing last month.”
USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach told Fudge’s subcommittee that the program was intended “to address three critical needs simultaneously: to provide markets for farmers faced with declining demand and the crisis of food rotting in fields and animals being euthanized; the food needs of newly unemployed Americans; and helping put suppliers and distributors back to work.”
He said all commodities purchased, packaged, and delivered are of 100 percent domestic origin and no vendor is paid until proof of delivery and compliance with the contract is confirmed.
“The program was designed to put American farmers and distributors of all sizes back to work while supporting over-burdened food banks; community and faith-based organizations; and other non-profits serving Americans in need,” said Ibach. “USDA continues to prioritize working with impacted businesses of all sizes and across all regions of the United States, to ensure maximum positive impact of the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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