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CEO DATELINE – Supreme Court hands FMI win in SNAP benefits case

June 25, 2019
By Walt Williams

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal government does not need to disclose certain information about a food assistance program for the poor, handing a legal victory to the Food Marketing Institute, which had represented food retailers in the case.

The Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011 after the agency turned down Freedom of Information Act requests seeking data about much food retailers were reimbursed under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as SNAP or food stamps.

USDA dropped out of the case in 2017 after a lower court ruled in favor of the newspaper. FMI then intervened on behalf of members and continued the legal battle, which reached the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Six of the nine justices sided with FMI, overturning a nearly 50-year-old legal precedent that allowed the government to reject FOIA requests only in cases where release of the information would harm businesses or the government’s ability to collect future data, according to an analysis of the decision by Politico. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said the precedent wasn’t to be found in the actual FOIA statute. https://politi.co/2Rw2XIU

In a statement about the ruling, FMI CEO Leslie Sarasin said FOIA “was created to shine a light on actions by the government, not on that of private parties.”

“The nation’s grocery stores have long kept confidential the amount consumers spend at individual stores whether through payment by cash, credit, debit or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP,” Sarasin said. “This store-level sales data undoubtedly must be considered confidential because its release would provide an unfair advantage to competitors.”

Cory Myers, news director at the Argus Leader, said in a story posted on the newspaper’s website that the media outlet was disappointed in the decision.

“This is a massive blow to the public’s right to know how its tax dollars are being spent, and who is benefiting,” he said. http://bit.ly/2X4mam8

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