SNAP data case heard by Supreme Court this week

The 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). It will likely announce its decision later this summer.

If the court 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 last—and most recent—public disclosure of that information happened by accident in 2013, when a Walmart executive let slip at a dinner party that the company made $13 billion from the program.

The Argus Leader, a South Dakota-based newspaper, first sought the disclosure of this data through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2010. Since 1966, FOIA has required the government to release previously undisclosed documents to the public unless they fall under one of nine exemptions. USDA denied the Leader’s request based on Exemption 4, which protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information.”

Supreme Court hears arguments in case with major implications for food retailers and press freedom

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