University of Minnesota nutrition education program to lose about 44 percent of staff after federal funding cuts


Responding to successive cuts in federal funding, University of Minnesota Extension announced Monday it will scale back a program that helps low-income families make healthy, cost-effective food choices.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education will cut 67 of its 152 employees by early next year, slowing education for the thousands of people who use SNAP. With the across-the-board federal cuts known as sequestration in effect and uncertainty surrounding the next Farm Bill, future funding prospects look grim.

“We were hoping these cuts were going to be short term,” said Extension Dean Bev Durgan. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to be short term.”

Formerly referred to as food stamps, SNAP is a federal program that helps low-income people buy food, said Erin Sullivan Sutton, Minnesota Department of Human Services assistant commissioner for children and family services. SNAP-Ed, which Extension runs, educates low-income families about making affordable, healthy food choices.

In January, Extension’s SNAP-Ed budget was cut by 28 percent, or $2.4 million, after federal cuts went into effect, Durgan said.

Humphrey School of Public Affairs political science professor Larry Jacobs called the SNAP-Ed job cuts “an example of a pattern.” Groups without large lobbying presences in Washington are seeing budgets cut and programs suffer because of sequestration, he said.

Extension has tried to find more funding to continue its services under the cuts, Durgan said, but cutting staff is necessary now.

Extension’s SNAP-Ed won’t be able to work as closely with schools or work one-on-one with food shelves any longer, she said.

This could be a problem for some of the 63,000 Minnesotans the program reached last year, Durgan said — especially if people are accustomed to working with a particular SNAP-Ed staff member.

“We will not have that local presence that we usually do, that we have for the last 20 years,” Durgan said.

The ‘epic battle’ in Congress

As the U.S. House and Senate continue heated debates over reductions to the Farm Bill, experts aren’t optimistic SNAP-Ed will get more funding anytime soon.

Both houses of Congress have proposed decreased funding in the new Farm Bill, although the Republican-controlled House passed a measure with far more cuts than the Senate, Jacobs said.

SNAP-Ed funding comes from the Farm Bill, so the future of the program depends on the bill, he said.

Sullivan Sutton said she was uncertain about the negotiations’ outcome.

“We certainly don’t anticipate an increase [in funding] at this time,” she said.

Jacobs said he wasn’t confident the program would be funded.

“This is the type of program that’s probably on the chopping block,” he said.

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