A $6 billion federal program created to give fresh food to families affected by the pandemic was mismanaged and utilized for political gain by the Trump administration, a new congressional report has found.
As per a new report, the Farmers to Families Food Box program awarded contracts to companies with no relevant experience and often lacked necessary licenses, as revealed by a ProPublica investigation last spring. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis determined that former President Donald Trump’s administration did not properly evaluate contractor applications or identify red flags in bid proposals, according to a report published last week.
CRE8AD8 LLC (pronounced “Create a Date”), a wedding and event planning firm, earned a $39 million contract. The contract was compared to the owner’s normal work of “putting tchotchkes in a bag.”
In response to the report, the firm’s CEO said in a statement, “We delivered far more boxes/pounds than many other contractors and as a for-profit company, we’re allowed to make a profit.”
The congressional report also highlighted an avocado grower’s application, which was initially awarded a $40 million contract before being rejected after a review. The farmer wrote, “I don’t have any,” in the section of the application that required applicants to give references.
In the early days of the epidemic, the Department of Agriculture established the Food to Families program to distribute food that might otherwise have gone to waste due to disruptions in distribution chains. The boxes included produce, milk, dairy, and prepared meats, as well as a signed letter from then-President Trump.
Ivanka Trump announced the program in May 2020. “I’m not shy about asking people to step up to the plate,” the president’s older daughter stated in an interview for the initiative.
According to congressional investigators, Ivanka Trump was engaged in having her father’s letter put in the boxes. The USDA informed contractors that including the letter was mandatory. Foodbank workers told investigators that the letter concerned them since it didn’t appear to be politically neutral.
President Trump and his daughter headlined a nearby event on the opening day of the Republican National Convention in August 2020 to announce an additional $1 billion for the food box initiative. Sonny Perdue, then-Secretary of Agriculture, also spoke at the event and urged participants to vote for Trump again.
A federal ethics office later found that Perdue’s speech violated a federal law prohibiting officials from using their offices for political reasons. At the time, the USDA disputed that Perdue was marketing, saying that Perdue’s comments merely “predicted future behavior based on the president’s focus on helping ‘forgotten people.'”
The yearlong congressional inquiry also uncovered flaws with the deliveries themselves, such as food safety concerns, failed deliveries, and uneven food distribution. Some contractors reportedly forced recipients to accept more food than they could distribute or store.
Committee chair Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said in a statement that the mismanagement of the program is another example of the previous administration’s failures.
“The Program was marred by a structure that prioritized industry over families, by contracting practices that prioritized cutting corners over competence, and by decisions that prioritized politics over the public good,” he said.
As per ProPublica, the Trump administration also hired a lobbyist to counter criticism that contracts were being awarded to unqualified contractors.
President Joe Biden ended the program in May.
The former president’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.