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Published December 02, 2013, 09:39 AM

Minn. program making cuts

U of M education is losing 67 jobs.

By: Julie Siple, Minnesota Public Radio News

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A program to help low-income Minnesotans eat healthier will soon shrink.

Citing a loss in federal funding, University of Minnesota Extension will eliminate 67 jobs from a nutrition education program, a cut of 40 percent.

Most of those losing their jobs are community nutrition educators who work around the state in food shelves, senior centers and schools. They’re part of a federally funded program that helps low-income Minnesotans eat healthy on a limited budget.

The cuts will mean less help for people in need, Extension Dean Bev Durgan says.

“There will be less one-on-one of our community nutrition educators in those food shelves,” Durgan says. Schools and community organizations also will be affected. “So we’re not going to have as much time to work individually with families.”

The community nutrition educators are paid for through federal funds, from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, a federal and state partnership that supports nutrition education for people eligible for food stamps.

It aims to promote healthy eating and prevent chronic disease.

“We know that low-income families have to make lots of decisions about how to spend their money,” Durgan says. “This program helps them make decisions to buy healthier foods, but also stretch that food dollar.”

In Minnesota, most of the money goes to University of Minnesota Extension. A much smaller amount goes to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which does work on six reservations.

The nutrition program was hit by a 28 percent cut in January when Congress negotiated a budget agreement. The U of M Extension education program saw its funding drop from $8.7 million to $6.3 million. Durgan says an additional 10 percent cut took effect in October.

Although U of M Extension covered the gap with other funds and cost-saving measures, that is no longer possible, Durgan says.

As a result of the cuts, the program will now focus most on areas where there are the largest number of food stamp recipients. All of the state’s 104 nutrition educators will be able to apply for the remaining jobs.

“We’re saddened that we have to make this decision, because we know that the need is still out in Minnesota, and it is increasing, as low-income families struggle to provide food for themselves and their families,” Durgan says.