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Food stamp data is off-limits to taxpayers

Food Stamp nationEver wonder how recipients are spending your tax money? What type of items are they buying? Are the items that they’re buying nutritious or are they using their benefits on tobacco, liquor or snack foods?

Well, so did Watchdog.org filed a request to the Virginia’s Department of Social Services for the date, time, amount and location of EBT card transactions in Richmond over a two-month period.

They made the request under the Freedom of Information Act and requested no personal data for the EBT beneficiaries. Sorry. According to both state and federal officials that data was off-limits.

“With respect to privacy laws, if you’re talking about an individual, but the food stamp regulations say that you’re not allowed to provide that information, very clearly,” said Margarita Maisterrena, public affairs director for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service for the mid-Atlantic region. “An aggregate amount, yeah, for the city of Richmond, we could give it to you. But the law says that if I, for example, were to provide you with information by address and in such detail, I could go to jail. … It’s in the act. It’s very clear.”

That refusal to disclose information is actually up for debate. Last week the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of South Dakota’s Argus Leader newspaper, saying that the USDA’s argument that a federal law protecting retailer applications does not mean federal payment data to those retailers is also protected.

In other words, the USDA is intentionally trying to shield the data from the prying eyes of those who are paying for it: the American taxpayers.

In other parts of the country reporters have been able to get the data where EBT cards are used for SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

However, the USDA was embarrassed when it was revealed that EBT cards were used in such places like strip clubs and even Disneyworld.

There is a big difference between SNAP cards and TANF cards. TANF benefits are distributed through direct deposit and debit cards which makes them very difficult to track. SNAP cards can only be used at certain retailers that have been approved by the Federal government.

Watchdog.org has resubmitted its FOIA request with some slight changing in the wording and hope to receive the requested data but they shouldn’t hold their breath.

The Obama administration is tired of being embarrassed with disclosures about the illegal use of benefits cards. Despite promising to be the most transparent administration in American history it seems that they are the most opaque. Why would they change now?



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Name: Richard Billies

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