The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held hearings yesterday on a 2011 lawsuit brought by the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D., over whether data about the payments made to businesses participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, should be publicly available.
As Josh Gerstein reports for Politico, an attorney for the newspaper argued that “a lower court judge misinterpreted the law by ruling that a confidentiality provision for retailer applications allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withhold all data on payments to those retailers.” Continue reading
Image by MapScience via flickr.
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.” Continue reading
A Pennsylvania congressman last week filed a bill that would require retailers to report which items are bought with food stamps.
The proposed “SNAP Transparency Act,” sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Marino, would require the secretary of agriculture to establish a uniform reporting system under which retailers would track “the complete range, identities, sizes, quantities, and costs of particular food items” purchased with benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
If passed, the legislation could give journalists and advocates access to long-sought information about the food purchases of SNAP recipients, at a time of growing concern about their access to healthy foods and about obesity and related health problems among the poor. Currently the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have the authority to collect such information.
The act would address one of two issues raised in a recent letter to Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack from AHCJ and six other organizations representing journalists and open-government advocates. Continue reading
The Association of Health Care Journalists, along with six other journalism and open-government groups, has called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release to the public vital information about the multibillion-dollar food stamps program.
Currently, the USDA refuses to reveal how much money individual retailers make from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Additionally, the USDA does not disclose which products are purchased with SNAP dollars or how much is spent on each product, in aggregate.
This information could show which businesses benefit from the program and also inform public policy debates about obesity and its causes, the organization argues.
The USDA’s position runs contrary to President Obama’s promise of government transparency, and stands in sharp contrast with practices at other federal agencies. For example, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families discloses where recipients used their EBT cards to withdraw cash assistance. A wealth of information is available about Medicare and Medicaid. Continue reading