While many people know that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides resources for millions of Americans in need of food assistance, they are less familiar with SNAP-Ed. A vital component of the SNAP program, SNAP-Ed teaches vulnerable Americans how to lead healthier lives at home, in school, and at work, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will choose physically active lifestyles and continue to make healthy food choices.
The SNAP-Ed program is implemented in most states by Cooperative Extension, a nationwide educational and outreach network that translates the research from land-grant universities like University of Arkansas into action, bringing cutting-edge discoveries in technology and learning methods to benefit children, families, communities, agriculture and businesses. The program benefits millions of low-income Americans every year, the majority (65%) of whom are children 5 to 17 years old.
SNAP-Ed is a federally funded program that falls under the Farm Bill, which is currently being considered by both houses of Congress. Under the proposed bill, University of Arkansas Extension will lead a partnership of community organizations to better implement evidence-based nutrition education and policy changes that make the healthy choice the easy choice in settings where low-income Arkansans shop, learn, live, and eat.
The Arkansas SNAP-Ed program is available for Arkansans to make better choices about what to eat and to stay active. In the 2017 fiscal year, they partnered with 239 schools, in 59 counties to conduct nutrition education. As a result of SNAP-Ed programs, 90% of adult participants surveyed increased nutrition knowledge and 80% intended to adopt a healthy eating pattern.
Through Cooperative Extension, SNAP-Ed programs in Arkansas have:
- Helped families stretch food budgets and choose healthy options;
- Connected low-income families with healthy resources in their neighborhoods and communities;
- Taught low-income families how to prepare healthy foods; and
- Introduced kids to fruits and vegetables through classes, after school programs, and school gardens. Nearly half of SNAP-ED participants regularly consume a variety of fruits and vegetables.
The Cooperative Extension system as a whole is uniquely positioned to ensure impactful outcomes nationwide. Because land-grant institutions are deeply embedded in their local communities, Cooperative Extension is already customizing programs based on the unique needs of each community it serves. With more than 3,000 staff members and 23,000 volunteers, they have the infrastructure to reach the greatest number of Americans. In fact, existing programs have a 74% success rate in reaching SNAP-eligible participants.
Additionally, as the outreach arm of the land-grant system, Cooperative Extension has the ability to continually improve the SNAP-Ed program with the best data-driven methodologies. This ensures continued – even increased – access to programs that have been continuously and rigorously evaluated to ensure that making the healthy choice is the easy choice. It also means healthier families and kids, improved learning in schools, and better work performance.
We believe strongly that University of Arkansas Extension is the right organization to lead the administration and implementation of the SNAP-Ed program in Arkansas. In partnership with the existing Cooperative Extension network and with other community organizations, we know that we have the unique capability to manage and deliver programs that will be continuously and rigorously evaluated to ensure impactful outcomes for thousands of Arkansans.
In addition, from its inception the SNAP-Ed program was aimed at keeping government spending in check. A healthier population means a decrease in long-term health care costs. A SNAP-Ed program that is continuously and rigorously evaluated and adjusted accordingly, benefits not only program recipients but also American taxpayers.
The changes in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill puts the SNAP-Ed program in the hands of a nationwide educational system that is uniquely positioned to meet these expectations. Through University of Arkansas Extension, the SNAP-Ed program will be a continued success that helps low-income Arkansans lead healthier lives, be better parents and learners, and be more productive in their jobs.
Editor’s note: Rick Klemme is the Executive Director for Extension Committee on Organization and Policy and a former Cooperative Extension Director at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The opinions expressed are those of the author.