In FOIA decision, Supreme Court rules that food stamp data is confidential

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

In a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday, justices ruled that data on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is confidential.

The ruling is the latest in a case brought eight years ago by the Argus Leader, a newspaper in South Dakota, asserting the public’s right to know how much taxpayer money goes to grocers and other retailers who participate in the program.

AHCJ has supported that argument and the newspaper’s pursuit of sales data under the Freedom of Information Act. With a 2019 fiscal year budget of $84 billion, SNAP is one of the nation’s largest safety net programs.

The ruling turned on the meaning of confidentiality, according to USA Today:

At issue was whether confidentiality, as used in a section of the Freedom of Information Act, means anything intended to be kept secret or only information likely to cause harm if publicized. The high court adopted the broader definition.

The newspaper won at the federal appellate court level last year, but the challenge asserting the confidentiality of business records pushed the case to the nation’s highest court.

“This decision is a serious blow to government transparency,” said Felice J. Freyer, AHCJ’s vice president and chair of its Right to Know Committee. “I hope Congress will revise the Freedom of Information Act to clarify its original intent. I’m pretty sure that most Americans want to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and believe they have a right to such information. The law of the land should reflect that.”

The Argus Leader has published a timeline of the case. More coverage:

Previous coverage on Covering Health:

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