Food relief political letter nonprofit organization

(Image: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons)

In the weeks leading up to the general election, nonprofits across the United States find themselves in a difficult spot thanks to the Trump Administration’s order to include signed letters from Donald Trump in government aid food boxes. The unusual move raises questions about the Trump Administration’s use of public resources to bolster the president’s reelection chances. The letters may have also forced nonprofits to break the law by engaging in political activity.

Operated by the USDA, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed millions of boxes of food to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides an essential life line to families across the country as the pandemic grinds on and more people are pushed into poverty.

As Trump continues to lag behind his Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the polls, his administration has compelled the USDA to include a self-praising letter by Trump taking credit for the food box program. Printed in both English and Spanish, the letter reads:

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.

This isn’t the first time Trump has used federal government resources for self-promotion. Earlier this year, the Trump Administration delayed the distribution of relief checks in order to include the president’s signature on them.

“In my 30 years of doing this work, I’ve never seen something this egregious,” Lisa Hamler, head of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, said in response to questions about Trump’s letter.

Not only does this move raise ethical questions regarding the abuse of tax payer dollars for Trump’s presidential campaign, it has also forced nonprofits into murky legal territory. Nonprofit professionals have accused the Trump Administration of compelling them to distribute propaganda on behalf of the president. Many have removed the letters or replaced them with letters explaining that the food relief was provided by U.S. taxpayers or that the program is not affiliated with any political campaign.

A nonprofit leader in Florida who filed a Hatch Act complaint alleges that the USDA retaliated by cutting off supplies.

It’s vital to elect leaders who would think twice before leveraging relief organizations for purely partisan ends.

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