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Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, sent an open letter Monday to top U.S. officials challenging their use of National Guard troops, criticizing the administration’s response to the school food shortages in her state, and asking why the administration isn’t doing more to provide government resources to help Alabama children while they attend public schools.
“In light of the National Guard’s location in Alabama and the education crisis the state is enduring, the President and the Department of Defense need to suspend the use of the Guard,” Sewell said in the letter.
Sewell cited recent budget cuts to the departments of Agriculture and the Department of Defense as one of the primary reasons the state experienced the nationwide school food shortage.
Alabama’s school system, one of the state’s largest, was forced to scramble to get enough food for students after FEMA funding, which pays for much of the local food fund, was cut off due to mismanagement of the program and the county where FEMA is located. A lawsuit filed by a group of parents who blame the over-restrictive conditions for brain damage on pupils is also scheduled to be heard this week.
Efforts to combat poverty in Alabama have also been hampered by budget cuts. Alabama had the seventh lowest per capita funding for K-12 education in the nation in 2015, receiving $1,016 per student, while Alabama ranks fourth in its state tax burden, according to a report from the Tax Foundation.
The number of people living in poverty in Alabama has doubled in the last 20 years. Census figures from 2014 show Alabama has the eighth highest poverty rate in the nation at 15.9 percent.
Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions recently attended a school luncheon in which Biden shared a story about a shipment of products that were taken from schools in northeast Alabama in favor of children who attend Obama’s school in the district. The companies were later ordered to deliver these products to schools in Alabama instead.
Sewell writes that Biden’s anecdote was “intended to highlight that families in Alabama are affected by food shortages and make the case that school children have been forgotten by the Obama administration as a result of President Obama’s extreme agenda.”
She argued the administration needs to be accountable by assisting local Alabama families, and that Obama should make the payments from FEMA in other states “while doing everything possible to alleviate the school food emergency in Alabama.”
“It was unfortunate to see former Vice President Biden poke fun at Alabama families by misleading them about our state while filling the stage with Democratic stars in Charleston, South Carolina,” Sewell said. “It is not only an unfortunate choice, but it’s also an insult to the memory of the nearly 40 people killed on the second anniversary of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.”
Biden will be in Alabama on Tuesday to attend a series of events in Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville, including the signing of the Accelerating Success Act of 2017 in Huntsville.
In a statement to CNN, Biden’s office said that the senator had the right to participate in events when they meet their obligations as a former vice president.
“In Alabama, Sen. Sessions and I have regular meetings with a full complement of governors and state officials, and both of us are available to brief the Alabama Governor and AG on current U.S. and international policy. We reached out to the state government to put together a tour, and we were happy to work with them to make this trip possible,” said Biden spokesperson Jordan Eagen.
“While visiting the Alabama Farmers Market earlier this month, the Vice President met with children and families at the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Birmingham. He told students of President Obama’s childhood health insurance initiative, ‘We want to see everybody, Democrats and Republicans, provided health care insurance,’” Eagen said.
Sewell’s letter to Biden is posted below: