Children receiving nutrition education in schools across Florida may have to start looking for help elsewhere as Congress threatens cutting the Farm Bill.
Programs like Florida’s SNAP-Ed — or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education – are part of the Farm Bill and funded through the United States Department of Agriculture. SNAP-Ed provides nutrition education for families and children who receive governmental assistance with food purchases as part of the SNAP program, formerly known as Food Stamps.
“SNAP Education is directly tied to the Farm Bill, so if the farm bill is cut, then the SNAP-Ed benefits will be cut as well, which means the program throughout the state of Florida will be cut,” said Karla Shelnutt, principal investigator for Florida’s SNAP-Ed Program.
Shelnutt said 30 Florida counties have SNAP-Ed in place. The education services provided through the program are done within the schools, with the majority delivered to kindergarten through second grade.
“We have program assistants who provide the education,” Shelnutt said. “We teach them all about My Plate, healthy eating, being physically active and we’re actually working with the Florida farm to school program where we’re teaching about local foods as well.”
That may change if the Farm Bill does not pass or the program gets cut from the Bill.
“There’s a real need to help people with food in rural areas,” said Muriel Turner, consumer sciences agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences. “So many people need assistance, and younger families get hit hardest when cuts happen.”
In 2010, the SNAP-Ed program was cut by 80 percent but later received funding through different programs such as the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. At that time, Shelnutt and those working with SNAP-Ed saw their budget go from $15-million to $3-million, including layoffs of one hundred people. The education program shut down in several of Florida’s counties to meet the new budget requirements.
“We had started developing relationships with schools in those counties and committing providing education,” Shelnutt said, “and then we had to let them go overnight.”
Until a decision on the Farm Bill is made, Shelnutt cannot determine the future of the SNAP-Ed program.
“Ultimately, it will be up to the Farm Bill, and what they pass in the Farm Bill,” Shelnutt said. “When that is passed, we’ll have a much better idea of what they’ll do with the farm funding, and then we’ll know.”
Perri Konecky edited this online.