Local freedom of information request draws federal jail threat

In November of 2010, the federal government emailed Michael Morisy with a very clear message: fail to take down the information posted on your website and face major fines, or even jail time. Morisy, aware of the seriousness of their intentions, respectfully declined.

His site, muckrock.com, was created as a tool to help citizens access information through Freedom of Information laws. Michael Morisy obtained the documents in question legally from the Department of Transitional Assistance. He maintains that he is allowed to publish them. As of the first of this year, the documents remain posted on the Freedom of Information Requests section of muckrock.com.

According to Michael Morisy, who is also a board member of the Homeless Empowerment Project which publishes streetpaper Spare Change News, “all 50 states and the federal government have laws that dictate how citizens can request government documents that show how their government works, but most people don’t know about this, let alone know how to go about filing these requests.”At muckrock.com, you can get all the help you need with any step in the process. They suggest wording and give ideas about what kind of information you can request. They also provide hundreds of examples to build off of, and they file your request for you and pressure the government to follow through with a response.

Recently citizens have requested information about things like enforcement of immigration laws in their towns and distribution of parking tickets inspecific neighborhoods. Sometimes theinformation is hard to come by, but theresults can be very telling. The public records system helps citizens put pressure on public organizations to be fair and honest in their practices. If anyone can request that documents be made public at any given time and the law requires that their request be acknowledged within 10 days, that is every incentive to constantly make sure there is nothing to hide.

So what exactly does the federal government want Michael Morisy to hide? It is only a list of all the retailers who have received SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) reimbursement in the past several years. There is no personal information listed about any of the citizens who have used food stamps, though the address of each store or program is included. It is not entirely clear why this information is sensitive enough to warrant threats of fines and even jail time

As Michael Morisy states, “It has been upheld time and time again that government has zero right in barring the press from publishing legally obtained information.” He acknowledges that “some records are rightly sealed from the public” Social security numbers, medical records, and personal information about individuals certainly qualify, as well as details of military plans or documents that are potentially harmful. “The general consensus,” he says, “from our readership at least, is that [the SNAP data] is exactly the kind … that should be public for reasons not only of accountability but also academic study.” Seeing where people spend their food stamps laid out in an organized fashion is certainly interesting.

Keeping track of the nutrition your body needs can be tough. Getting the right nutrients is especially important for the homeless in order to avoid getting sick and to stay strong in the elements. It is not an easy task, but you can maintain a balanced diet whenever possible, even with little means.

Whenever possible, it is important to eat a wide variety of foods in the major groups. This includes whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, or whole grain cereal. Also vegetables: especially dark green and orange vegetables, or beans and peas. Finally, it’s important to remember dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as protein found mostly in lean meats and beans.

The most recent estimate of people who are undernourished in the world was put together this past October by the Food and Agriculture Organization. According to their resources, 925 million human beings do not have the basic nutrition they need. If you are fortunate enough to have access to the things you need, just make sure to maintain good variety! Local convenience stores such as CVS and 7-11 sometimes carry fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is usually the least expensive at grocery stores. Apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits and 100% fruit juices can be purchased with food stamps at a local supermarket or convenience store. In addition, many shelters and soup kitchens provide well rounded meals. According to Susan Miskell, The Pine Street Inn provides healthy meals to people who stay in the shelter facilities. A nutritionist reviews the menus to ensure a balanced meal is provided. Dinner is always accompanied by a vegetable, and fruit is served when available through kind sponsorship or donations.

(Photo: Laurie Bowen)






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