January 28th, the Sioux Falls Argus Lead newspaper won a case against the USDA in trying to get data on food stamps handed out in the United States.
For almost three years, the USDA, which runs the food stamp program, tenaciously fought to keep this information secret. They refused to hand it over when the newspaper made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. They refused again when the newspaper filed an administrative appeal. And they fought hard and won when the newspaper brought them to federal court in South Dakota.
But that all changed on January 28 when another federal court ordered the USDA to hand over the information. The U.S. Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, struck down the South Dakota judge’s ruling, and held that the public and the newspaper are entitled to this information. The court brought a little sunlight to the USDA bureaucracy, and even quoted Justice Brandeis who said that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
This is a major victory for many groups who have been wanting to see where the $80 Billion/year program gets spent. Food stamps for some reason have turned into a taboo topic but the mounting reports of fraud and waste are too hard to ignore like this one.
Nona Clark operates a small Oregon convenience store. “In order to take food stamps, we have items like can meat, fruits and vegetables. No one buys this stuff and we have to throw it away because it expires,” she said.
“All your food stamp customers ever buy is candy; chips and cokes, then turn around and buy beer and cigarettes with cash,”
$80 Billion/year also promotes cronyism where businesses who accept food stamps do not want it to go away.
Retail chains that accept food stamps are fighting a regulatory initiative to make public store-by-store data on their participation in the $80 billion government program.
The 30-day comment period closed Sept. 10, and the 539 responses it generated included dozens from corporate retailers and food industry trade groups ardently opposing transparency on food stamp transactions, as well as small convenience store owners making the same case.