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Washington cleanup continues as Biden administration cans troubled Trump food program

Image: USDA

You’re probably already doing it every morning when you wake up for a dozen reasons, but if you’re looking for another cause to be thankful that Donald Trump has been exiled to his little mini-Xanadu in south Florida, here’s a good one.

As reporter H. Claire Brown reports for The Counter (an up and coming news site for all things related to food and food policy), the Biden administration has dumped another flawed — and quite possibly corrupt — Trump administration scheme to supplant a basic public service with a quasi-private, half-baked program run in part by amateurs.

The program was called the “Farmers to Families Food Box program,” and like a lot of Trump-era schemes, it undoubtedly sounded better when pitched by a salesman in a five-minute meeting with a Trump appointee or family member than it turned out in the real world. The idea was that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would help respond to the pandemic by buying surplus farm food, boxing it up and delivering it to families in need. As Brown reports, however, the program was plagued with problems from the start:

But flaws in the program’s implementation became evident almost immediately: USDA chose inexperienced distributors—including a catering company and a financial services provider now under investigation—to launch the box program. Food pantries soon began complaining that deliveries weren’t arriving, that the produce arrived in poor condition, and that the boxes themselves were falling apart. Some of our earliest reporting found that USDA was paying well above retail price for milk distributed through the program. Many argued that boosting SNAP benefits or providing other forms of direct cash assistance for people in need of food may have been far more efficient than the box deliveries.

Our reporting later revealed bigger problems with the food box program: In the first round of distribution, more than 1,000 counties were left out. Food pantries reported incurring tens of thousands of dollars in extra delivery costs after the program failed to follow through on the agency’s truck to trunk promise. Religious organizations were distributing the boxes with a side of pro-church messaging. And the boxes were really, really expensive: In Puerto Rico, for instance, one distributor was charging USDA $100 per box—a price more than triple what a local farmer said a similar amount of local produce would cost.

In other words, it was the classic Trump scam: a shallow, ill-conceived and poorly executed plan to replace a basic public service — food assistance — with a convoluted replacement plan that would be easy pickings for profiteers and proselytizers.

Brown goes on to report that new Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told a congressional hearing yesterday that “There was a significant difference of administrative costs and in some cases people were [paid] a tremendous amount just to fill the boxes. There was inadequate accounting of where the boxes were actually delivered. There was a lot of food waste and loss that we uncovered as a result of listening sessions.”

None of this, of course, is to say that there weren’t many good and well-meaning people involved with the program or that it didn’t deliver some help to some folks in need. What the failure does remind us, however, is that there are many things our government already does well (and could do a lot more of) if know-it-all politicians and their uninformed lackeys and hangers on just got out of the way and provided adequate funding to the professionals we’ve already hired and trained to provide core public services.

Click here to read Brown’s story.

Tillis calls impeachment effort ‘unwise’

Less than three weeks after pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, a majority of Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to support a motion by Sen. Rand Paul questioning the constitutionality of the impeachment trial.

The procedural move failed (55-45) with five Republicans joining Democrats rejecting Paul’s attempt to end the trial even before it could begin.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, who sided with Sen. Paul, said afterwards it would be ‘unwise’ to attempt impeachment now that Donald Trump is a private citizen.

Here’s an excerpt from Tillis’ statement:

“The impeachment power can be turned into a political weapon, especially if it is primarily used to disqualify an individual citizen from running for public office. My Democratic colleagues would have rightfully objected to Republicans – when they controlled Congress – using the impeachment power to disqualify former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from running for president in 2016 because of her email controversy.

The great hallmark of our Democratic Republic is self-government, and I have faith in the American people to assess the qualifications of presidential candidates and make an informed decision themselves, just as they have done every four years since George Washington was elected as our first president. Congress should not dictate to the American people who they can and cannot vote for.”

Trump’s impeachment trial is slated to begin on February 8th. Democrats would need 17 Republicans to convict.

Last week, Senator Mitch McConnell said the mob that stormed that Capitol on January 6th was provoked by Trump’s rhetoric.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)