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8th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals Rejects Government’s Bid to Keep Food Stamp Data Secret
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The US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has rejected arguments of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the public has no right to know which retailer is earning how much of taxpayer’s money under the food stamp program. The DOA had argued that a provision in federal law that allows the application information of retailers to be kept secret also applies in keeping secret how much the government pays out to which retailer. The 8th Circuit did not buy the argument.

Chief Judge William Jay Riley opinionated, “Because the retailer spending information is not ‘submit[ted]’ by ‘an applicant retail food store or wholesale food concern…’ the information is not exempt from disclosure. The department, not any retailer, generates the information, and the underlying data is ‘obtained’ from third-party payment processors, not from individual retailers.”

  
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The matter came before the 8th Circuit on an appeal filed by South Dakota’s Argus Leader newspaper after the government refused to act on a Freedom of Information Act request and disclose how much the food stamp program paid to individual retailers on an annual basis from 2005 to 2010. When the newspaper went to court, a district court sided with the federal government and held the food stamp statute prevents the disclosure of such information to the public.

Pointing out that “Congress has clearly indicated its intent to involve the public in counteracting fraud perpetrated by retailers participating in this program,” the opinion mentioned, “Between 2007 and 2011, spending ‘more than doubled . . . from about $30 billion to $72 billion,'” and that according to statistics “over fifteen percent of the population” were receiving food stamp benefits from 2012 financial year. The opinion also noted that according to the USDA itself, trading for food stamps was found to be a significant problem with more than 10% of retailers engaging in such fraud. The case has been sent back to the district court.

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