Quest for food stamp data lands newspaper at Supreme Court
In this April 9, 2019, photo, Argus Leader investigative reporter Jonathan Ellis and news director Cory Myers in the newsroom in Sioux Falls, S.D. In 2010, reporters at South Dakota's Argus Leader newspaper came up with the idea of requesting data about the government's food assistance program. They thought the information about the $65-billion dollar-a year program, previously known as food stamps, could lead to a series of stories and help them identify possible fraud. But the government didn't provide everything the paper wanted. Trying to get the data has taken the paper more than eight years and landed the case at the Supreme Court. (Briana Sanchez/The Argus Leader via AP)
WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2010, reporters at South Dakota’s Argus Leader newspaper decided to request data about the government’s food assistance program, previously known as food stamps. They thought the information could lead to a series of stories and potentially help them identify fraud in the now $65 billion-a-year program.
They sent a stream of what they thought were routine requests for information to Washington.
Government officials eventually sent back some information about the hundreds of thousands of stores nationwide where the food program’s participants could use their benefits. But the government withheld information reporters saw as crucial: how much each store received annually from the program.