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San Diego Unified School District removes Trump letters from food boxes, saying they mislead on COVID-19

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Cincinnati in August 2019.
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Cincinnati in August 2019.
(File / The Associated Press)

The district is taking the letters out of federally funded grocery boxes that it distributes to families in need.

The San Diego Unified School District is removing letters from President Donald Trump that have been packed into free food boxes for families in need, saying the letter inaccurately downplays the necessity of masks in preventing coronavirus spread.

San Diego Unified, other school districts as well as food banks and other nonprofits distribute boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat and other groceries to families for free through the federal Farmers to Families Food Box program, which started in May and has delivered more than 100 million boxes. The program buys food from farmers that might normally go to restaurants.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been placing a copy of a letter signed by Trump touting his response to the pandemic in every food box. In the letter, Trump said he has “prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need.”

Trump similarly had letters from himself sent out with coronavirus stimulus checks.

The food box letters have been criticized by Democratic lawmakers who believe Trump is using his position to promote himself in the weeks leading to the Nov. 3 election.

On Oct. 7, San Diego Unified removed letters from 850 boxes, according to a district spokesman.

San Diego Unified said it takes issue with the part of the letter in which Trump recommends that people “consider wearing a face covering when in public.”

Superintendent Cindy Marten said that language misleads families about masks.

“Science is clear: Wearing a mask works to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Marten said in a statement. “Masks are required in California and on every San Diego Unified school campus. It is not optional, as the president wrote in his letter.”

San Diego Unified also said Trump misleads families in recommending that they protect “the most vulnerable individuals” from the coronavirus, including people 80 and older and those with pre-existing conditions.

“Beyond understating the health benefits and ignoring the state mandate of wearing a mask, the Trump letter mistakenly repeats the president’s claims that only the very old and very sick need to be protected from the coronavirus,” the district said.

The district alluded to state data showing that more than 68,000 California school-age children had tested positive for the virus as of Oct. 6.

In an email, the Department of Agriculture said Trump’s letter includes health information critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19. It also countered claims that the letter is political.

“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 department said.

The department pointed to articles from Pro Publica and Politico that said the letters may not violate the federal law preventing electioneering by federal employees because the letters do not explicitly mention the election.

The letters have been controversial in other parts of the state. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is removing the letters at distribution sites, the Washington Post reported. Other food banks also were not planning to include them, Kate Leone, chief government relations officer at Feeding America, told the Post.

The Oakland Unified School district initially included the Trump letters in food boxes it distributed but later began pulling them out, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.


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