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San Diego Unified Removes Trump Letter From Federal Food Boxes

This undated photo shows food boxes that will head out to families in the San...

Credit: San Diego Unified School District

Above: This undated photo shows food boxes that will head out to families in the San Diego Unified School District. Also shown is a letter from President Donald Trump, which will not be included in the boxes.

Food baskets heading out to families in the San Diego Unified School District Wednesday will be sent without a letter from President Donald Trump.

District officials say the letter is misleading about ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

The letter has been placed in millions of boxes across the country that are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Since May, the program has distributed more than 100 million boxes, but the letter is a new development.

"As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities," Trump's letter begins. "As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.

"... As our country reopens, I urge all Americans to continue to adhere to the important precautions set forth in the President's Coronavirus Guidelines for America and by the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention regarding how to best protect yourself and your family. A few key best practices to support our nationwide recovery are:

  1. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands;
  2. People who feel sick should stay home;
  3. Protect the most vulnerable individuals, including those 80+ years of age and those with pre-existing conditions;
  4. Practice social distancing and consider wearing a face covering in public.

Reported by Matt Hoffman

"You and your loved ones are cherished members of our great American family," the letter concludes. "This pandemic has brought many hardships on millions of hardworking individuals and communities through no fault of their own. We will support America's recovery every step of the way. Together, we will overcome this challenge, and our nation will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before."

Medical experts call masks essential to fighting the spread of COVID- 19. Many states, including California, counties and cities mandate masks and social distancing.

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

Marten directed the San Diego Unified Food and Nutrition Services Department to remove all letters that have not already been distributed before the boxes go out to families this week. She said the removal will occur as part of the existing delivery process, which requires every box to be opened before distribution. San Diego Unified receives the boxes sealed with the letter and opens the boxes to refrigerate the milk, yogurt and eggs to keep them cool until distribution.

The letter comes in both English and Spanish on White House letterhead and features Trump's signature.

San Diego Unified Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said she was appalled the Trump administration was communicating what she called misinformation to disadvantaged students receiving food assistance — in communities that are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis.

"The COVID-19 virus has disproportionately impacted communities of color," Whitehurst-Payne said. "Not only are we facing higher rates of infection and mortality from the coronavirus, we have also been the hardest hit in terms of unemployment and hunger. To take advantage of that suffering by distributing misleading medical information is appalling. This is equivalent to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in terms of the level of contempt demonstrated towards our community."

According to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 hospitalization rates among non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic or Latino people were both about 4.7 times the rate of non- Hispanic white people.

Beyond the mask issue, Whitehurst-Payne also took issue with what she considered Trump's sentiment that only the very old and very sick need to be protected from the coronavirus.

"More than 60,000 school-age children in the State of California have been infected with the coronavirus, and no one knows what the long-term health effects of that will be," she said. "To imply that only people over 80 need to be protected from the virus is extremely irresponsible."

San Diego Unified Board President John Lee Evans said Wednesday he supports district leadership for pulling the president’s letter.

"The thing that was concerning was that it talked about precautions for COVID-19 and it did not give a strong message about wearing masks," Lee Evans said.

The letters are being put inside USDA grocery boxes part of the Farmers to Families Program.

"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," a spokesperson for the USDA said by email Wednesday. "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."

It appears everyone in the USDA program is getting the letters. A spokeswoman for Grossmont Union High School District said they have not noticed any letters inside their grocery boxes. A San Diego Unified official said the letters were first noticed Tuesday.

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Aired: October 8, 2020 | Transcript

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