Quest for food stamp data lands newspaper at Supreme Court
In the summer of 2010, reporters at South Dakota’s Argus Leader paper chose to request data about the government’s food assistance program. They believed the information help them identify fraud and possibly could cause a series of tales.
They sent a flow of what they thought were regular requests for information regarding Washington.
Government officials finally sent some information about the thousands and thousands of stores where their benefits could be used by the participants of the meals program. But the government withheld information reporters saw as essential each shop received in the program.
A supermarket association opposing the release of the information asserts that the information being sought is confidential. Even the Supreme Court’s decision in the case could be narrow or may significantly alter the interpretation of a law which grants the public access to government documents.
USA Today publisher Gannett owns the Argus Leader and is the largest newspaper in South Dakota. It wrote concerning the government’s initial release of info. But one of the reporters behind the asks, Jonathan Ellis, said there is more to learn if the newspaper gets exactly what it’s seeking.
Ellis stated he would like to write known as SNAP. He would like to examine successful efforts to involve farmers’ markets have been. And he is hoping to utilize the data to identify shops that seem like outliers, an indication of potential fraud.
Megan Luther, the other reporter supporting the requests, said the newspaper has been battling for the data for reasons beyond”there is a fantastic story there.” Luther, who now works for InvestigateTV, stated it is”transparency 101″ which”taxpayers have a right to know where their money is moving.”
The newspaper has gotten close to getting the data.
After initially opposing the release of the information, the federal government reversed course following the Argus Leader took it to court and won. An appeal was dropped by the group, along with the newspaper expected it would shortly get the data. Subsequently the Supreme Court took the case.
The Food Marketing Institute, which dropped interviews earlier the arguments of Monday, has stated that the public has access. However, SNAP revenue data by store is private”much the exact same way how much business grocers perform in cash, credit, debit, checks or even present cards will be confidential,” composed Food Marketing Institute president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin in a blog post last month.
To determine whether the data should be published, the Supreme Court will need to translate the national Freedom of Information Act.
It provides taxpayers, including coworkers, accessibility to federal agencies’ documents. In the Argus Leader’s instance the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that administers SNAP, argued that revealing the information the paper hunted was barred by FOIA’s”exemption 4.” It tells the authorities to withhold”confidential””financial or commercial information” acquired from third parties.
It will be up to the court to ascertain whether what the newspaper is looking for counts as”confidential.”
In arguing against the release of the information, the Trump administration is financing the grocery stores. The Associated Press is among dozens.
Myers, the Argus Leader’s news director, said that in the years it’s taken for the newspaper’s case to reach the Supreme Court, the paper has continued to do the sort of investigative reporting it was trying to perform in trying the SNAP data.
In South Dakota, he explained,”you will find far more tales and more malfeasance than one newsroom could distribute, but we certainly try.”
The case is 18-481 Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media.