Politics

Court Rules U.S. Government Cannot Conceal Food Stamp Data

| by Will Hagle

A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture cannot keep secret the amount retailers receive for participating in the food stamp program.

The case began when the Argus Leader, a South Dakota newspaper, filed a Freedom of Information request about businesses enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The USDA initially denied the newspaper’s request, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently claimed that the department must comply with the request.  

The newspaper believes that the food stamp data should be transparent.

“We originally asked for this information in 2011, so this has been a long fight for us,” said executive editor Maricarrol Kueter. "All along we have believed the data should be available for public review, and we’re greatly encouraged by the Court of Appeals panel’s ruling."

According to Politico, the USDA had initially attempted to block the request by claiming a “federal law protecting retailers’ application information from disclosure also barred disclosure of how much the feds pay out to specific businesses.” The judges, however, ruled that the information is not exempt from disclosure because the department generates the data rather than the specific retailers. 

It is not entirely clear why the Argus Leader initially filed the Freedom of Information request, but it was likely an attempt to investigate how businesses are participating in the quickly growing welfare program. Politico reports that 10 percent of retailers are known to participate in fraudulent behavior such as trading food stamps for cash. 

Despite the court’s ruling, the USDA has not been explicitly ordered to release the information requested. The case is scheduled to return to district court for further review.