A decision is expected by the end of June in the fight over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program retail data.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case April 22, according to Politico. The issue originated as a public records request nearly eight years ago.
The Argus Leader, the Sioux Falls, S.D., newspaper that first sought the information in 2011, asserts the public has a right to know which companies are receiving reimbursement from the federal program. Organizations including the Food Marketing Institute and the National Grocers Association say the information’s release would be detrimental to stores.
Leslie Sarasin, CEO and president of FMI, stated in an opinion piece for USA Today — an opposing view to the paper’s editorial board — that the Freedom of Information Act was designed to provide transparency around government activities, not those of the private sector.
“Revealing store-level SNAP sales data will not illuminate the government’s activities,” Sarasin wrote. “It simply opens grocers to unfair competitive harm.”
NGA views the harm as even more severe for independent grocers.
“Store-level sales data from SNAP or any other transaction is confidential information,” NGA president and CEO Peter Larkin said in a news release. “NGA has long maintained that a retailer’s SNAP store data should remain private as the data contains confidential store sales information that could be used by competitors to target and harm local, community-based supermarkets.
“The supermarket industry is highly competitive, and any public disclosure of this sales information could give competitors an unfair advantage, particularly over many small and medium-size grocers, as well as stigmatize stores that serve low-income communities,” Larkin said.
Reporters at the Argus Leader have argued — and did so again in an article April 22 — that information about the amounts received by different retailers for SNAP could give insight into food deserts and food insecurity, show which companies make the most money from the program, and allow the newspaper to examine the records for signs of fraud.