SNAP Food Stamp Reimbursements for FY 2000 - FY 2010

Michael Morisy filed this request with the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America.
Status
Rejected

Communications

From: Michael Morisy

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

The ten years of food stamp reimbursement data through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for financial years 2000 through financial year 2010, including retailer names, addresses, cities, state and reimbursement sums broken down by year.

I also request that, if appropriate, fees be waived as I believe this request is in the public interest. The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at MuckRock.com, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Michael Morisy

From: USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Mr. Morisy,

This acknowledges receipt of your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This was received by this office on April 20, 2011. As we understand it you are requesting a copy of ten years of food stamp reimbursement data through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for financial years 2000 through financial year 2010, including retailer names, addresses, cities, state and reimbursement sums broken down by year.

Your FOIA request has been assigned case number FOIA-FNS-11-125. Please use the assigned case number when contacting this office for information pertaining to your FOIA request. This will help us assist you in a timely manner.

In accordance with the FOIA, you should receive a response from this office within 20 working days. If you have any questions please contact me at 703-305-2963 or foia@fns.usda.gov.



Sincerely,
Todd

Todd Walls
FNS FOIA Analyst
Information Management Branch
USDA Food and Nutrition Service
(703) 305-2963
todd.walls@fns.usda.gov
IMB Customer Survey

From: Michael Morisy

Hi Todd,

This request is now past due by about 3 weeks. Any update on its status?

Thanks,

Michael

From: Michael Morisy

To Whom It May Concern:

I wanted to follow up on the following Freedom of Information request, copied below, and originally submitted on April 18, 2011. Please let me know when I can expect to receive a response, or if further clarification is needed.

Thank you for your help.

From: Michael Morisy

To Whom It May Concern:

I wanted to follow up on the following Freedom of Information request, copied below, and originally submitted on April 18, 2011. Please let me know when I can expect to receive a response, or if further clarification is needed.

Thank you for your help.

From: Michael Morisy

Sent to Office of Government and Information Services:

Hi,

I filed a request with the Department of Agriculture (FOIA-FNS-11-125) on April 18, 2011. I received confirmation of the request for records on April 20, 2011, along with a statement saying I should receive a response within the 20 statutory working days. I've heard nothing since, despite three follow up e-mails, and would appreciate any assistance or guidance in receiving a response to my request. The full materials are copied below, after my signature, or are accessible here:

http://www.muckrock.com/foi/view/united-states-of-america/snap-food-stamp-reimbursements-for-fy-2000-fy-2010/534/

In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 as amended, I hereby authorize the Office of Government Information Services to make inquiries on my behalf, including the right to review all documentation that OGIS deems necessary regarding the Freedom of Information Act and/or Privacy Act request/administrative appeal that is the subject of my request for OGIS assistance. I understand that any documents I provide to OGIS, except those provided in confidence, may be copied and forwarded to agency officials as a part of the mediation/resolution process. I also authorize any Federal department, agency or component to release to OGIS information and records related to my Freedom of Information Act and/or Privacy Act request/administrative appeal.

Signed,

Michael Morisy

From: Office of Government Information Services

From: Corinna Zarek

Mr. Morisy,

I apologize for the delay in getting in touch. I have been trying to reach the FOIA contact at the Food and Nutrition Service (who was very responsive to me in a previous OGIS matter) but haven't had any luck. I had hoped to get a status report from her so I could include it in an initial message to you.

At any rate, I'm trying to determine what the delay is with regard to your FOIA request for SNAP data and as soon as I learn more, I'll be in touch. In the meantime, all of my contact information is below and you should feel free to give me a shout if anything comes up on your end.

Best,
Corinna Zarek

From: OGIS

Hello again, Mr. Morisy.

I hope you received my below message a couple weeks ago.

I finally had the chance to speak with someone at the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service this morning. Todd Walls, the same gentleman who I believe you were previously in touch with, said he would prefer to just give you a call and give you the status update directly. He said he would be calling you this morning. It sounds like you're next in the queue, which is a good sign even despite the delay.

If that conversation provides you with the information you need, please let me know and we can close out your OGIS request. If not, and you are still seeking our assistance, please give me a call and we'll see what we can do to help further.

Thanks,
Corinna Zarek

From: Todd Walls

Mr. Morisy,

I tried to contact you by phone and have left you a message on your Google voicemail. We received a request from OGIS to either contact you or to contact them with the status of your request. We have both tried to reach you on the phone and have provided the status to OGIS. The FOIA request that you submitted to this agency is still in cue for search, review of located records, redaction of portions of the records that are not appropriate for release and then release to you. As we understand it you requested a copy of ten years of food stamp reimbursement data through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for financial years 2000 through financial year 2010, including retailer names, addresses, cities, state and reimbursement sums broken down by year. The component of the agency with the records may be responsive to your request is the part of the agency that is one of the main subjects of our incoming FOIA requests. It is for this reason along with the fact that most requests to this portion of the agency are voluminous that you have not received a response to your request yet. I can assure you that we are working on processing your request.

Please contact me directly if you have more questions with regards to this matter at 703-305-2963 or at foia@fns.usda.gov. I will be happy to provide you an update to the status of your request. Additionally I would like you to know that the USDA Food and Nutrition Service along with the entire Department of Agriculture is undergoing a modernization of our methods of processing FOIA requests. The agency will be moving to an electronic tracking and receipt system whereby we can receive FOIA requests online, process the requests with assignment of a case number, provide updates of the status of the request and finally release the records to a secure website directly to the requester. This will allow increased visibility of the processing of a request. We hope to have this fully implemented by the end of October 2011, fiscal year 2012. We apologize for any inconvenience incurred to you because of the delay of release of the information you have requested.

Thank you for allowing us the pleasure of serving you.

Sincerely,
Todd

Todd Walls
FNS FOIA Analyst
Information Management Branch
USDA Food and Nutrition Service
(703) 305-2963
todd.walls@fns.usda.gov
IMB Customer Survey

From: Jennifer Weatherly

Mr. Morisy,
We apologize for the delay in processing your request. This is not our response but I wanted to inform you that we are not allowed to release any financial information. Yearly redemption amounts, or EBT sales figures, for each store, in accordance with 7 CFR 278.1 (q) we are not allowed to release this information unless it is for the purpose directly connected with the administration and enforcement of the Food Stamp Act. 7 CFR 278.1(q) states that any information collected from retail food stores and wholesale food concerns, such as ownership information and sales and redemption data, may be disclosed for purposes directly connected with the administration and enforcement of the Food Stamp Act and these regulations.

The only information we would be allowed to release is the store name and address. Knowing this, I wanted to know if you are still interested in pursuing this request?

Thanks
Jennifer

Jennifer Weatherly
FNS FOIA Officer
Information Management Branch
USDA Food and Nutrition Service
(703) 605-0773
jennifer.weatherly@fns.usda.gov
IMB Customer Survey

From: Michael Morisy

Hi Jennifer,

I believe that this is a misreading of the cited regulation. I am *not* asking for data supplied by stores, EIN information, SSN information, or other privileged or protected data. I am asking for what stores have been reimbursed, the final numbers that were generated by the government and not the stores themselves.

If this is something that can not or will not be provided, I would appreciate a prompt denial or my request and contact information regarding my administrative appeal rights rather than the the list of stores involved in the program.

From: Jennifer Weatherly

Good Morning,
This is in response to your request for ten years of food stamp reimbursement data through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for financial years 2000 through financial year 2010, including retailer names, addresses, cities, state and reimbursement sums broken down by year.

We informed you that pertaining to your request we would only be able to release retailer names and address. We also informed you that we would not be allowed to release Financial information and asked if you were still interested in pursuing your request. You responded that if the information cannot be provided, you would prefer a prompt denial with appeal rights rather that a list of stores participating in the program. We considered this a change to your request for only the financial information since you did not want the list of retailers names and addresses if the other information would not be provided.

We are denying your request in full. We are not allowed to release retailer redemption information in accordance with Food and Nutrition Act, 7 U.S.C. 2018 (c), and Title 7 Part 278 of the Federal regulations at 7 CFR 278.1 (q). This information can only be disclosed for purposes directly connected with the administration and enforcement of the Food Stamp Act and the regulation mentioned above.

Since there is another statue that prohibits the release of information, this information is also protected under 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(3) in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.

If you are dissatisfied with the action on this request, you may appeal by writing to the Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service, 3101 Park Center Drive, Alexandria, Virginia 22302, within 45 days from the date of this letter. The phrase "FOIA APPEAL" should be placed in capital letters on the front of the envelope containing the appeal. You can also appeal by replying to this email.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Weatherly
FNS FOIA Officer
Information Management Branch
USDA Food and Nutrition Service
(703) 605-0773
jennifer.weatherly@fns.usda.gov
IMB Customer Survey

From: Asya Calixto

Audrey Rowe
Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service
United States Department of Agriculture
3101 Park Center Drive
Alexandria, Virginia 22302

Re: Freedom of Information Act Appeal of Michael Morisy

Dear Ms. Rowe:

This is an appeal pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6), concerning the refusal of the Information Management Branch of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (“FNS”) to disclose documents containing data about food stamp reimbursement through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”). FNS’s refusal to disclose the requested documents violates the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552.

The denial of Mr. Morisy's request was incorrect because it relied on the wrong section of the SNAP statute. The section cited by FNS relates to information that businesses supply in order to qualify to distribute food stamps; it does not apply to aggregated governmental data about the disbursement of these governmental benefits.

On April 18, 2011, Mr. Morisy requested data pertaining to SNAP food stamp reimbursement from FNS, requesting “[t]he ten years of food stamp reimbursement data through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for financial years 200 through financial year 2010, including retailer names, addresses, cities, state and reimbursement sums broken down by year.” Mr. Morisy’s request was assigned the following case number: FOIA-FNS-11-125. On September 29, 2011, FNS FOIA Officer Jennifer Weatherly denied Mr. Morisy’s request, applying 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(3) on the basis that the Food and Nutrition Act (“FNA”) bars disclosure of the requested documents.

In fact, 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(3) does not bar disclosure of these documents. The FNA provision on which Ms. Weatherly relies in denying Mr. Morisy’s request relates to the disclosure of data that retailers submit in their applications for participation in SNAP and are not applicable to the requested records about redemption data produced and stored by the government. The basis for FNS’s refusal to disclose the requested documents is premised on the misapplication of the FNA; consideration of the relevant provisions of this Act reveals that there is no basis for withholding the requested documents.
Mr. Morisy appeals the denial of his request pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6) and respectfully requests that FNS provide the requested documents. A copy of the FOIA request and the agency determination which is the subject of this appeal is enclosed for your convenience.

Background
On April 18, 2011, Mr. Morisy filed a FOIA request for data from 2000 to 2010 pertaining to food stamp reimbursement under SNAP. Specifically, Mr. Morisy requested retailer names, their addresses, and the amounts that the retailers were reimbursed, broken down by year. FNS contacted Mr. Morisy about the request approximately five months later, on September 12, 2011, after the Office of Government Information Services made inquiries with FNS on Mr. Morisy’s behalf. In an email dated September 28, 2011, FNS stated that it would only release store names and addresses, but none of the other requested data. On September 29, 2011, FNS issued a formal denial of Mr. Morisy’s request, relying on 7 U.S.C. 2018 (c) of the FNA and 7 CFR 278.1 (q).

Discussion
Section 2018(c) is Inapplicable and Does not Prohibit Disclosure of the Requested Information.
In 7 U.S.C. 2018(c), the FNA addresses the disclosure of information contained in retailers’ application materials to state agencies. Specifically, this section of the FNA outlines the purposes for which retailers’ sensitive information, such as tax records, may be disclosed to enforcement and investigative agencies. The regulation promulgating this section of the FNA, 7 CFR 278.1 (q), specifically addresses only the information collected from retailers, and the use of this information by state and federal agencies for the purpose of administering or enforcing the law. This section of the statute, as well as the regulation promulgating it, is silent as to the government’s disclosure to the public of records that it creates and keeps.

The Applicable Provisions of the FNA Do Not Prohibit Disclosure of the Requested Information.

The provisions of the FNA that relate to government records, rather than the retailers’ application records, are 7 U.S.C. 2019, which concerns the redemption of SNAP program benefits, and 7 U.S.C. 2020 (a)(3), which concerns the state’s obligation to keep records of reimbursement through the SNAP program. The regulations relevant to these provisions are 7 CFR 272.1(e) and (f). Nothing in the statute or regulations exempts information regarding states’ redemption of program benefits to retailers from disclosure as a public record.

Conclusion
FNS’s denial of Mr. Morisy’s public records request is based on the erroneous application of Section 2018(c) of the FNA. Given the inapplicability of this provision to the request, and the absence of any language in the applicable provisions indicating that the requested records are anything but public, 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(3) of FOIA does not prohibit disclosure. Accordingly, FNS must provide retailer names, their addresses, and the amounts that the retailers were reimbursed, broken down by year for the years of 2000 to 2010.

Please let me know if you have any questions regarding the above appeal. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Asya Calixto
PRINCE LOBEL TYE LLP
100 Cambridge St.
Boston, MA 02114
617.456.8110
alakov@princelobel.com

From: USDA

From: Michael Morisy

Hi Todd,

I just wanted to check in on the status of my appeal of this request, which was received November 14th of last year and given tracking # 2012-FNS-00034-A.

Thanks,

Michael

From: "Weatherly, Jennifer - FNS" <Jennifer.Weatherly@fns.usda.gov>

Good Afternoon,
I apologize for the delay with processing your appeal. The appeal is going through the final stages of the process and very close to being complete. The appeal has already been reviewed by our legal office and his currently being reviewed by SNAP leadership. We hope to get this out soon. If you have any questions please let me know.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

From: Michael Morisy

Hi Jennifer,

Just wanted to check in on this. You said it was done a while ago and being reviewed. Any progress?

Thanks!

Michael

From: Department of Agriculture

From: "FOIA - FNS" <FOIA@fns.usda.gov>

Good Morning,
Please see attached response to your appeal. We will also be sending a copy by mail. If you have any questions please let me know.

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