Newspaper wants info on food stamp sales but government says it’s private

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – A South Dakota newspaper requested more information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about how SNAP benefits are spent. But the legal battle over whether the information should be made public has dragged out for eight years.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

“It is a little bit surreal and, honestly, like a little bit disappointing, right?” said Cory Myers, the news director at Argus Leader.

In 2011, Argus Leader Media requested information about the SNAP program from the USDA.

“So pretty basic, open government. Public information 101,” Myers said.

The paper wants to see store sales data. The information would show how much money stores like Walmart, along with grocery stores and convenience stores, get from SNAP.

The newspaper company says that if it gets the information, the paper may be able to report on potential fraud within the SNAP system. But it won’t know if there is fraud unless there is access to the information.

The USDA did not release the information, citing an exemption within the Freedom of Information Act.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the newspaper and the USDA decided not to appeal the case further.

But a trade association, the Food Marketing Institute, appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The government vindicates our interests and has kept this information secret in order to protect the program and its participants,” said Evan Young, an attorney for the Food Marketing Institute.

During oral arguments, Young told the justices the information is confidential information about SNAP recipients and includes protected trade secrets.

“Our members are competing against each other to be able to have the market of this customer,” he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision by the end of the term in June.

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