State nutrition education faces uncertainty in Farm Bill

The Extension SNAP-Ed program could face large cuts as the Farm Bill is negotiated.

by Max Chao

A University of Minnesota nutrition education program could see large cuts if a long-debated federal budget is passed.

On March 15, Democrats in the House Agriculture Committee sent a letter to ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson requesting a halt in negotiation on the Farm Bill.

As a result, negotiations on the bill — which allocates funding for food and agriculture programs — have stopped until details are released. The standstill is also in part due to disagreements on SNAP program funding. 

One potentially affected program is the University Extension’s SNAP-Ed program, which educates families on how to use their food aid nutritiously and efficiently. 

“It is my hope that we can move past some of this divisiveness and be deliberate and thoughtful with our negotiations around all Farm Bill titles and policies, including SNAP Education,” said Rep. Collin Peterson in an email statement.

Extension provides SNAP-Ed classes in many counties around Minnesota, with more than 50 educators employed across the state. Approximately 13,000 people attend SNAP-Ed classes and about 119,000 people access other SNAP-Ed resources annually.

Classes focus on topics like grocery shopping, cooking, diabetes prevention, family gardening and senior citizen nutrition.

“We … both listen to the needs of the people of Minnesota and also share resources and research that could help them have better lives,” said Patricia Olson, director of programs for Extension.

While the cut is part of President Donald Trump’s February budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year, it would need to be included in the Farm Bill, an omnibus budget bill that encompasses most of the agriculture and food policy in the country, to be implemented.

The Farm Bill is passed roughly every five years, and is due for renewal in 2018. 

If passed, the cut would save $4.7 billion over a 10-year period, according to the budget proposal. The previous Farm Bill, passed in 2014, increased funding for SNAP-Ed programs. 

Two senators and three representatives from Minnesota sit on the federal House and Senate agriculture committees, which draft the Farm Bill. Extension has held education sessions with various legislators on the state and federal levels about the benefits of its programs, Olson said.

“We hope that we can help people eat a healthy, nutritious diet. That’s the goal of our program. We think it’s a needed program,” Olson said. 

She added that the first drafts of the completed Farm Bill are expected to be available later in March.