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Government shutdown stops MU Extension nutrition education

Thursday, October 3, 2013 | 8:18 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — More than 100 nutrition educators will not be teaching in classrooms or community centers Friday because of the federal government shutdown.

These educators are part of an MU Extension program that operates on a $10.4 million yearly budget comprised entirely of federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. (Editor's note: The program's website was not accessible at the time of publication because of the government shutdown.) That contract was "suspended as of today," said Jo Britt-Rankin, associate dean and program director of Human Environmental Sciences Extension.

These educators will receive a paycheck through Oct. 21 through a one-time payment from MU Extension. But after that, the university will be forced to lay off employees, according to an MU Extension news release issued Thursday afternoon.

Michael Ouart, MU vice provost and director of cooperative extension, said in the release that he does not want to lose employees and the investment MU Extension has made in them.

Britt-Rankin said the 1,000 low-income Missourians the extension program serves will not receive nutrition education this month. In addition, 130,000 families will not be receiving nutritional brochures.

As part of the MU Extension program, nutrition educators are responsible for helping Missourians make better food choices. Schoolchildren learn about the importance of choosing healthy snacks such as apples instead of chips; Britt-Rankin said some children taste their first kiwis in these healthy cooking classes.

Additionally, nutrition educators teach parents how to make healthy meals for their families at food demonstrations.

"Many of the parents don't know how to cook," Britt-Rankin said.

Ouart said he worries that the discontinuation of healthy eating education will negatively impact the eating habits of Missouri residents for years to come, according to the release.

MU Extension brings awareness of University of Missouri System research to Missourians through educational outreach programs. Its programs include agriculture, natural resources, nutrition and health, business and careers, and emergency management. 

"We're just hopeful for a speedy resolution to begin providing nutrition education again," Britt-Rankin said.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.


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