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Extension's SNAP-Ed program facing cuts

WORTHINGTON — University of Minnesota Extension faculty and staff learned earlier this week that the federally funded SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — Education) for low-income audiences will be restructured.

It is still unclear what this means for the Nobles County Extension Service and SNAP-Ed program. But Aimee Viniard-Weideman, the director of communications and assistant dean at the University of Minnesota Extension, said people are going to experience a difference.

“Our federal funding, like in all states, received an unexpected 28 percent cut in the SNAP-Ed funding in January through the American Taxpayer Relief Act,” she said. “Since that funding has not been restored and the future of federal funding under the Farm Bill has not been resolved, we were left with no choice but to restructure our program.

“Since we were already into our fiscal year — which began in October 2012 — we assumed we were getting the full amount of funding,” she continued. “So when we found out we weren’t receiving that money rather than doing immediate cuts, we went forward with the restructuring process.”

To ensure that Extension continues to deliver statewide nutrition education to eligible families while operating with reduced federal funding, Extension will now have to use a regional delivery model. This model includes:

* Having a nutrition staff that will cover multiple county regions. Counties may choose to contract with Extension for additional county specific services, as they do now for 4-H program coordinators and county agriculture educators.

* Identifying multi-county service areas based on income-eligible populations and free-lunch eligible schools.

* Staffing the new regional system with 40 percent fewer positions.

“Extension will continue to provide nutrition education to low-income families, but we will have fewer nutrition educators to reach the same number of participants,” said Bev Durgan, University of Minnesota Extension Dean, in a press release explaining the restructuring. “We have a proven track record of success with Extension’s regional delivery model, which we rely on as we work closely with our local and state partners to deliver nutrition education to low income families in new ways.”

Instructors at the Nobles County Extension office often lead presentations at the West Learning Center for English Language Learners (ELL). They also do classroom and after-school programming at both Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle School, as well as the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, and provide information to clients of the local food shelves, WIC (Women, Infants and Children program), Job Club and the Unity House, among others.

Extension nutrition staff is being encouraged to apply during an internal hiring process that will be continued through mid-December. There are 85 new regional positions, but those who did not apply or were not offered a regional position will receive layoff notices effective in mid-January. 

The new regional SNAP-Ed educators will be in their new positions in early 2014. They will then work with local community partners to determine educational programs and delivery methods based on income-eligible participants in the counties. 

“As far as the planning process and what programs are needed in different regions, that has yet to be determined,” Viniard-Weideman said. “We have a really great staff that will be a part of that solution, and figuring out the different projects and solutions that are significant in defining what that is.” 

“We tried to give the federal government a chance to reinstate the funding —this is a valued program and staff that we’ve had for over 20 years. This was a difficult and painful decision that we had to make.”

Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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