SNAP-Ed hires employees after federal funding boost

The program will add back about half of the 67 positions it cut this winter.

SNAP-Ed hires employees after federal funding boost

Tyler Gieseke

A University of Minnesota Extension program is adding back about half of the jobs it recently lost.

The University’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education recently received its annual allocation of federal dollars, which includes a one-time $2 million boost that will add employees and flexibility to a program that cut a massive portion of its staff this winter.

“We’re very happy that we’ve had some of this funding restored,” University Extension Dean Beverly Durgan said. “And now we need to make sure we have a program we can sustain with the amount of funding that we have.”

The SNAP-Ed program, which works with the government program formerly known as Food Stamps, helps low-income people purchase food. The program teaches those families how to eat well, spend wisely on groceries and grow their own food.

In mid-January, the University’s SNAP-Ed program eliminated 44 percent of its employees due to federal funding cuts and because Congress hadn’t yet approved the 2014 Farm Bill, which provides funding for SNAP nationwide. The bill passed in February, allocating $756 billion across the country.

With the renewed grant, which in total is $8.3 million for this year, the University’s SNAP-Ed program will add back about half of the positions it lost, Durgan said.

The additions will relieve some of the stress from previous funding cuts, said Karen Shirer, associate dean for the University Extension Center for Family Development. The program will start adding back the positions at the end of the summer, she said.

Funding for the program dropped from $8.7 million to $6.3 million in 2013 as part of the national cuts to SNAP, which were in part due to the federal sequestration. The decrease in funds prompted University Extension to reorganize the program, and 67 University employees lost their jobs in the process.

“Redoing this program and eliminating positions was really one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as the dean, and I really don’t want to do that again,” Durgan said.

The program’s restructuring came before its leaders knew it would get this recent funding boost, Durgan said.

But SNAP-Ed leadership won’t reach out to former employees and give them their jobs back, Shirer said. She said anyone interested in the new positions will need to go through a normal hiring process.

The job cuts took away from the one-on-one time educators used to have with families, Durgan said. As part of the reorganization, some SNAP-Ed employees now cover entire regions of the state, rather than just counties.

Families who use the program understand that less funding means fewer programs, Durgan said. 

“There’s a disappointment because this program provides good information, good education, and it’s something that people are counting on,” she said.

In the past, federal funding has been more stable, Durgan said, with only slight changes from year to year.

“Those kinds of cuts you can adjust to,” she said, adding that larger funding slashes require more drastic measures, like restructuring.

To keep funding up, Shirer said, SNAP-Ed reports its successes to federal legislators. Durgan said many of them, including U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Al Franken, D-Minn., are supportive of the program.

She said the program is hoping to maintain this year’s level of funding.

University President Eric Kaler  said he was happy to see the increased funding for what he said is an important asset to the state.

“[SNAP-Ed] is a very good program, very impactful, particularly … in greater Minnesota,” Kaler said. “I’m glad to see that those resources are back.”