The Supreme Court has decided to take up a case over whether nutrition program retailer data should be released to the public.
The Food Marketing Institute petitioned the court in October, seeking to reverse an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the U.S. Department of Agriculture should have to release figures on how much stores receive in payments under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Taxpayers spent $65 billion on the program last year.
The Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader sought the retailer-specific data under the Freedom of Information Act.
On Friday, the high court granted the petition, which often is interpreted as a sign that the decision in question will be reversed. FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said the group was “delighted.”
“It is a critically important case that will clarify the protections from disclosure applicable to confidential business information that private parties submit to the government,” Sarasin said, expressing gratitude to groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Convenience Stores and National Grocers Association that supported the petition in friend-of-the-court briefs.
The dispute boils down to an interpretation of FOIA’s Exemption 4, which protects from public disclosure "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential," often referred to as Confidential Business Information (CBI).
In its petition, FMI noted that USDA “releases monthly compilations of SNAP redemption data,” which are viewable by anyone at a national, state, or congressional district level.
“But USDA does not disclose data regarding the amount of SNAP redemptions at individual stores, and retailers have participated in the program with the understanding that store-level data would be kept confidential,” FMI said.
The Argus Leader, however, has argued over the seven-year course of the litigation that it is seeking information on taxpayer payments, not CBI.
The case, the newspaper said in its response to the petition, “involves a request for the government’s own information, compiled and stored on the government’s own databases, relating to the government’s own spending.”
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