The state’s community nutrition educators remain in the field only because the University of Minnesota Extension is keeping the program afloat through September, in the face of federal budget cuts.
Funding comes through the federal farm bill, says assistant dean Aimee Viniard-Weideman. But the program took a 28 percent cut in January, when Congress slashed what are called SNAP-ED funds.
In Minnesota, educators serve 73,000 participants. They must work almost exclusively with low-income families, such as children who receive reduced-fee lunches, adults with disabilities, families receiving food assistance, or seniors on fixed incomes.
Their classes deliver a huge return on investment, Viniard-Weideman says, regardless of how you track it. Well-nourished children have better attendance in school, for example. Seniors are more likely to remain independent, living in their own homes.
More concretely, every $1 spent on nutrition education saves $10 in health-care costs down the road, she says. Taxpayers would pick up many of those medical bills. “That’s the public value of nutrition education,” Viniard-Weideman says.