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Associated Press, Published November 18 2013

University of Minnesota cuts Extension nutrition educators

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota is cutting nearly half of the staff from a federally funded program that teaches low-income Minnesotans about healthy eating, the university said Monday.

The Supplemental Nutrition Education Program, or SNAP-Ed, will lose 67 of its 152 employees early next year as a result of the automatic federal budget cuts that took effect March 1 of this year.

University of Minnesota Extension Dean Bev Durgan said until now, the program has sent nutrition educators to virtually every county in Minnesota to work in schools, food shelves and senior citizen centers. But the cutbacks mean only 45 educators will be left to cover Minnesota's 87 counties.

"What it means is that we have (fewer) people to serve the needs of the state," Durgan told the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1dPbpZ2 ). "That will be our challenge."

Under the changes, the program will shed just over 40 percent of its positions, including supervisors and support staff.

The staff works mainly with low-income families, at programs throughout Minnesota, to teach them how to stretch their food budgets and make healthful choices, Durgan said. She said research shows the program saves $10 in long-term health cuts for every $1 spent on nutrition education.

In January, however, the federal government cut the SNAP grants nationwide by 28 percent, which cut the university program's budget from $8.7 million to $6.3 million, Durgan said. University officials tried to make up for the shortfall by reducing expenses, including supplies, travel, meetings and administration, she said. But in October, the federal grant was cut by another 10 percent.

"That's 38 percent of our budget; it's just hard to sustain," she said.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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