Because of the Federal Taxpayer Relief Act passed in January, the University of Minnesota Extension Office will see dramatic cuts in staff in 2014.
The bill, also known as the “Fiscal Cliff” legislation, resulted in a 28% cut ($2.5 million) in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) education funding in Minnesota.
Funding for the program goes through the Dept. of Health & Human Services. The Extension Service delivers the educational component.
In Sherburne County last year, 5,673 people participated in the SNAP program, with benefits totalling over $7 million.
Darcy Kvam is the community educator in Sherburne County, teaching SNAP clients about nutrition. Last year she reached 792 persons, making 2,187 direct contacts during educational sessions at locations such as food shelfs, senior dining centers, schools and WIC session.
Because of cuts in funding, in 2014 Kvam will no longer be working out of the Sherburne County office. And many other nutrition coordinators will either be relocated or lose their jobs.
“Because we didn’t really know whether those cuts would be permanent and what would happen going forward, the dean of extension covered the deficit,” said Sarah Chur, University of Minnesota Extension Central Region Director said the Extension Service at the last Sherburne County Board meeting.
“However, knowing that those cuts now appear to be permanent and we still do not have a farm bill, we need to restructure our nutrition program to reflect the federal funding level.”
Currently there is a community nutrition educator in 84 of 87 counties across Minnesota. That’s about to change.
“We’re looking at doing a regional model, creating multi-county service areas. Staff won’t be housed in every county office,” said Chur.
The restructure will result in 40% fewer positions across the state. Those new regional positions have been posted internally. Staff members who don’t receive one of the new positions will receive a layoff notice, said Chur. Those who are selected for a position will be notified Monday (Dec. 16).
No matter who gets a position, there will be a lot fewer people covering the same amount of territory.
“While the regional model will allow us to continue to do a lot of education and good work, we will not be able to provide the same level of service with 40% fewer staff,” said Chur. “How the delivery unfolds is still uncertain, but the placement of the positions is strategic based on where we have the largest concentration of people in need of the program and the largest number of eligible schools.”
In this area there are positions slated for Stearns, Anoka, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Dakota counties.
Chur said there have been other major cuts in the Extension office already this year.
“There was a program leader position let go earlier in the year. We lost nearly half of our extension educator positions across the state. They received calls a few weeks ago,” she said. “This federal cut is unfortunate. It’s a difficult time for us. It personally affects a lot of people and all the people who work in offices with them across the state.”