Mandan News

USDA seeking to increase transparency

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public input concerning a proposal to provide more information to the public about the amount of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits used by participants at individual grocery stores and retailers. USDA’s goal is to provide as much transparency as possible on retailer data within the limits of the law. In doing so, USDA will consider input from a wide variety of stakeholders through a Request for Information published today in the Federal Register. The RFI seeks public comment on several questions related to the transparency of SNAP retailer redemption information.

“Our goal is to provide more transparency so that people can have access to basic information about the amount of SNAP benefits that individual grocery stores and retailers are redeeming,” Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said. “We hope that this public comment period will be informative as to how we can do that in the most thoughtful and appropriate way possible.”

The RFI is part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to make government more open and accountable and increase transparency. Since 1978, USDA has interpreted federal law as protecting SNAP retailer redemption information. A South Dakota newspaper successfully challenged that view and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ultimately agreed, ruling in favor of the newspaper. The ruling was limited to the interpretation of Section 9(c) of the Food and Nutrition Act and did not address whether redemption data constitutes “trade secrets, [or] commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential” which would still be protected from disclosure through Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act.

USDA is now considering whether this redemption data constitutes confidential business information under FOIA. To make a determination, USDA is required to seek feedback from affected stakeholders, specifically SNAP retailers, on whether annual aggregate redemption data from individual stores is confidential under FOIA. Additionally, the USDA is considering what, if any, adjustments should be made to SNAP regulations regarding the release of SNAP retailer transaction data in the future based on input from the public. Comments may be submitted through the Federal Register until Sept. 8.