Extension restructures food programsPublished 2:12pm Thursday, January 23, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS — University of Minnesota Extension laid off about 44 percent of its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education employees on Jan. 14 in response to diminishing funding and is in the process of determining how to most effectively continue to provide a reduced level of services to people in need.
In Otter Tail County, that will mean an Extension educator will be building stronger connections with and perhaps even training partners such as food shelve staff and volunteers to deliver some educational programs previously provided solely by Extension educators, according to Aimee Viniard-Weideman, director of communictions and assistant dean at the University of Minnesota Extension.
“We know that all counties and county partners are going to experience a reduction of classes and programs,” she said. “In Otter Tail County, we have a person in place who has worked with the SNAPs program previously, who knows the programs, demographics and partners and resources in nearby counties, which is a positive for the county and in the surrounding area.”
Until now, University Extension has avoided layoffs in SNAP-Ed, which works in tandem with the government program formerly known as Food Stamps. The program educates low-income people who are on a limited budget about active lifestyles and healthy choices.
Before the cuts, 109 community nutrition educators worked with Minnesota’s 87 counties, with at least one part-time educator in almost every county. Now, some educators may have to cover up to four counties. Otter Tail County had two such educators, one in Fergus Falls and one in New York Mills.
The Extension Service created positions in counties based on the number of users of the programs, among other factors.
But Erin Ostrowski, a newly hired SNAP regional educator in Ramsey County, said she has faith in the program’s ability to reach those in need.
“I think we’re going to consider more effective programing and considering working with more agencies,” she said. “I’m looking forward to new partnerships and seeing everyone we will be able to reach.”