Few federal “safety net” programs have grown as quickly and with as little transparency as food stamps, formally known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
With a higher-than-ever number of Americans on food stamps and faced with the repeated refusal by the government to make public the information about where and how the money is being spent, seven major journalism groups and open-government organizations have banded together in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release that data.
The group – including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors, the National Association of Science Writers, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Association of Food Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press – is correct in pointing out the lack of a “good reason for this secrecy” surrounding food stamps, given the relative transparency of such programs as Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The feds disclose information on where beneficiaries of those programs withdraw cash using their electronic debit cards; with SNAP, officials have declined to provide data on which retailers are benefiting and what types of products the money is spent on.
In a letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this month, the group criticizes the secrecy surrounding a program that served a record 47.8 million people as of December and gave out $74.6 billion in benefits last year.
“We believe it is simply wrong to withhold basic information about a multibillion-dollar program from the people who pay for it,” the group said, pointing out that President Barack Obama had promised “a new era of openness and transparency” under his administration.