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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case On Whether SNAP Data Should Be Made Public

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a case that will decide whether or not the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have to disclose retailers’ sales data from the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps).

At stake in this case is the definition of “confidential.” The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), a group representing the interests of food retailers, argues that disclosure of SNAP sales violates customer confidentiality. The case began in 2011, but the FMI intervened on behalf of the USDA in 2017 when it lost an appeal that would have required data to be disclosed.

The case was originated by a South Dakota newspaper, The Argus Leader, which first asked for SNAP data through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2010. If the Supreme Court now rules that the agency does have to release retailers’ SNAP sales information, the public will learn more about which grocery companies generate the most income from the program.

The Eighth Circuit’s decision, which was announced in May of 2018, determined that the release of SNAP sales data was not likely to cause substantial competitive harm. According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, SNAP provided $93.3 million dollars in monthly food benefits to approximately 804,000 people in the state last month so far in 2019.

SNAP sales transparency would also provide crucial data for researchers who study the public health impacts of retailers’ advertisements around SNAP distribution dates, according to proponents for disclosure. Retailers like Walmart and Amazon have recently received criticism for their employees’ reliance on SNAP benefits.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this summer.

To talk about the details of the case, Claire Brown, writer for The New Food Economy, joined The Show.

Heather van Blokland was a host at KJZZ from 2016 to 2021.