The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) request to withhold annual individual store SNAP redemption information. Following this decision, FMI immediately filed an application for a stay in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Given the significant case load of the Court, we believe it is highly unlikely the stay will be granted,” said the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association (TGCSA) in an email newsletter. “However, we would expect a decision from the Supreme Court within the next few days.”
In addition to these recent developments, the Texas Retailers Association (TRA) filed suit against the USDA on Aug. 6, urging a Texas federal judge to revisit the earlier court’s ruling concerning the release of the information. Yesterday, the judge assigned to this case granted TRA’s request for a temporary restraining order and has set a preliminary injunction hearing for later this month. There is a chance the hearing date will be extended. The restraining order only applies to data from Texas retailers.
Despite these developments, it is very likely that USDA will be compelled within the coming days to release data to those who have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the agency, limited to the initial request for information from 2005-2010.
“We understand that there are additional requests pending from 2010-2016,” said TGCSA. “It is also our understanding that USDA will release the information directly to each party who has submitted a FOIA request, rather than publicly through its website or other methods.”
In August 2011, the Argus Leader sued USDA for annual SNAP store sales data after USDA denied a Freedom of Information Request for the data. The issue before the court is whether store-level SNAP redemption data should be released to the public following a FOIA request. FMI joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff and has argued this store-level information constitutes confidential business information and, therefore, should not be publicly released. The Gannett Co., which owns the Argus Leader, and its publications have argued that taxpayers have a right to know where government dollars are spent.
FMI members of all sizes and geographic locations have expressed apprehension regarding the release of this information, with smaller companies expressing concern over larger U.S. competitors receiving the data and larger U.S. players expressing concern regarding data access for international on-line operators without existing U.S. stores.
“While we are disappointed with this outcome, we will continue to work on your behalf to protect this information going forward and are working with USDA to reduce the harm to the greatest extent possible from having the information released,” said the TGCSA in its newsletter. “In addition, you may recall that we were able to get language included in both the House Farm Bill text and the House Agriculture Appropriations text to address the issue, although action on either is unlikely until late September at the earliest.”