SNAP transparency will bring praise, criticism to retailers - The Packer

SNAP transparency will bring praise, criticism to retailers

08/04/2014 06:30:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstI’ll admit I wouldn’t want “just anyone” to see what food I spend money on.

After outside scrutiny of my recent intake of Papa Murphy’s pizza, Chick Fil-A fried food and burgers in a sack, I imagine would be appropriately chagrined and humbled by a chorus of critics.

“You call yourself a produce journalist?- ha!” “What a great example to the youngsters you are (sarcasm)!” "Fraud!"

So let’s take that option off the table.

But I’m quite pleased the USDA is contemplating greater transparency in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more comfortably called “food stamps” by many of us oldsters. (By the way, if the USDA ever again changes the name of a well-worn government program like food stamps, it should at least sell the naming rights; how about “Kraft Nutrition Assistance Program” or “Wal-Mart Food Program.” Think about it!)

If you don’t know, the USDA now refuses to release retailer specific data about SNAP revenue, arguing such data is confidential. How much money does Wal-Mart store #45 pull in from stamp program every month and every year? We don’t know. How much food stamp business does the ethnic convenience store manage, notwithstanding its meager produce department? We can only guess.

But a lawsuit may soon compel to disclose retail specific food stamp data, and the USDA issued a notice Aug. 4 stating that, just maybe, it might consider more transparency for the retail data.

Here is a only slightly clunky summary from the USDA notice:

In light of a recent court decision regarding the availability of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) retailer transaction data to the public, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is issuing this Request for Information to help inform FNS’ response to the recent court decision and any future policy changes regarding the release of SNAP retailer transaction data. In moving forward, USDA is interested in providing greater transparency. However, the Department also recognizes that any movement in this arena needs to be done carefully, after considering potential consequences and the views of the variety of stakeholders. As a result, this notice requests information from any and all interested parties, with a particular focus on current and former SNAP authorized retailers, as to whether the disclosure of aggregated SNAP redemption data at the individual store level would improve the administration and enforcement of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (the Act) and whether such data is confidential business information.

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Tom O'Connor    
Georgia  |  August, 05, 2014 at 07:51 AM

This would be at best an fruitless distraction, and at worst a new intrusion by the federal government into private enterprise and personal freedom. The taxpayer money in the form of food stamps goes to the food stamp recipients. The fact that the food stamps are then used to purchase food items from the retailer of choice is no more important than where anyone chooses to shop. Just what would these data encourage - squeezing retailers to give a volume discount? If anyone wants better management of SNAP, the focus should be on eligibility. I have no interest in either end of any SNAP transaction, economic or otherwise. I am, however, a very concerned citizen and taxpayer.

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