Bill would keep secret how much revenue individual retailers get from SNAP

From The Rural Blog

The House version of the proposed Farm Bill contains a provision that would overturn a court ruling allowing the public to see how much Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) revenue a retailer gets in a year. The National Newspaper Association, the main lobby for weeklies and small dailies, says the grocery industry and big-box stores are pushing the proposed exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has been fighting in court for seven years to get the data. After a federal judge said it should get the data, the Department of Agriculture didn't appeal, but the Food Marketing Institute, the grocers' lobby, did so. It argued that releasing the figures "would cause some SNAP retailers substantial competitive harm," and/or "public stigma," the Argus Leader reported. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected those arguments, a month after the House Agriculture Committee included the exemption in its proposed Farm Bill.

NNA President Susan Rowell, publisher of the Lancaster News in South Carolina, told senators in a letter, "Community newspapers see considerable public interest value in USDA’s annual SNAP retailer data. The public availability of this information would enable journalists to probe many aspects of the SNAP program that should concern Congress, such as existence of food deserts, particularly in the rural and highly urban areas; possible food stamp fraud, which a skilled journalist might detect from dramatically disparate utilization of the benefit between similarly‐situated retailers; development of new capabilities by certain retailers who have begun to welcome SNAP beneficiaries, such as new freezers, dispensers and displays; and competitive pricing among locations where SNAP beneficiaries might be able to stretch their resources further."

Rowell also said the Farm Bill is not the place to amend the FOIA. "The gravest danger to transparency and accountability by the citizen-shareholders of the U.S. government is the piecemeal erosion of FOIA from year to year by individual interests hoping to gain their own particular shelters for records," she wrote. "As users of FOIA, community newspapers believe that only serious, the demonstrable and specific harms resulting from disclosure legitimately qualify for FOIA exemption."

NNA has circulated a briefing paper on the issue and urged its members to contact the Senate's Farm Bill conferees: Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and fellow Republicans John Boozman of Arkansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Joni Ernst of Iowa; and Democrats Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.