The Los Angeles Times today published an op-ed by the co-chairs of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ Right to Know Committee calling on Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to end the secrecy surrounding the multibillion-dollar food stamps program.
“The debate in Congress about cutting the food stamp program has sparked predictable clashes between those who want to help the poor and those who want to cut government spending,” the opinion column said. “But strangely missing from the arguments is a shocking fact: The public, including Congress, knows almost nothing about how the program’s $80 billion is spent.”
Compared with other safety net programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (the official name for food stamps) stands out as the most opaque. The public has no information about how much money is collected by individual retailers or which foods are purchased with SNAP dollars.
As a result, decisions about the program are made in ignorance, and communities are deprived of vital information on whether SNAP recipients have access to healthful foods.
”Publication of this piece in the Los Angeles Times will draw wider attention to our concerns, at a time when Congress is debating SNAP spending,” Freyer said. “It really is outrageous that such a huge program is shielded from public scrutiny.”
AHCJ, joined by six other journalism and open-government groups, wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the matter in April. “With any federal program, but especially one as large as SNAP, records should be public unless there is a compelling reason to hide them,” the letter said. Vilsack has not responded.