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Agency Primed To Implement Nutrition Education

October 7, 2018
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Agency Primed To Implement Nutrition Education

Approximately 23 percent of Scranton residents live below the poverty line, nearly double the national level and state level. Coupled with an increasing obesity rate that affects the impoverished at disproportionately high levels, the demand for aid and education is more vital than ever. One program addressing both of these needs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and its immediate future hinges on the upcoming changes to the federal Farm Bill. While many people know that SNAP, formerly the food stamp program, provides resources for millions of Americans who need 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, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will choose physically active lifestyles and make healthy food choices. In Scranton and across Pennsylvania, the SNAP-Ed program is implemented by the Cooperative Extension in partnership with local organizations. Cooperative Extension is a nationwide educational and outreach network that translates research from land-grant universities, such as Penn State, into action, applying discoveries in technology and learning methods to benefit children, seniors, families, communities, agriculture and businesses. The SNAP-Ed program benefits millions of low-income Americans. It is a federally funded program that falls under the Farm Bill, which is stalled in Congress. Under the proposed bill, Cooperative Extension networks across the nation would assume the leadership role within a partnership of community organizations to better implement evidence-based nutrition education programs and policy changes. In Scranton and Pennsylvania, this means Penn State Cooperative Extension would continue to help make the healthy choice the easy choice in settings where low-income Pennsylvanians shop, learn, live and eat. Penn State Extension plays a vital role in the implementation of the SNAP-Ed program across Pennsylvania. Currently, 1.8 million Pennsylvanians are eligible for the program. That’s nearly one in seven Pennsylvania residents. In 2016, 87 percent of Pennsylvania’s SNAP-Ed program participants were children. Through Cooperative Extension, SNAP-Ed programs in Pennsylvania: ■ Help families stretch food budgets and choose healthy options. ■ Connect low-income families with healthy resources in their neighborhoods and communities . ■ Teach low-income families how to prepare healthy foods. ■ Introduce kids to fruits and vegetables through classes, after-school programs and school gardens. The extension system is positioned to help ensure positive SNAP-Ed outcomes nationwide. Because land-grant institutions are deeply embedded in their local communities, the extension already customizes programs based on the needs of communities it serves. With more than 3,000 staff members and 23,000 volunteers, the system has the infrastructure and capacity to reach the greatest number of Americans. In fact, existing programs have a 74 percent success rate in reaching SNAP-eligible participants. Additionally, as a component of the land-grant system, the extension has proven ability to improve the SNAP-Ed program with data-driven methodologies. This means continued — even increased — access to programs that have been evaluated to ensure that making the healthy choice is the easy choice. It also means healthier kids, families and seniors, improved learning in schools and better work performance. From its inception, the SNAP-Ed program aimed at keeping government spending in check. A healthier population means a decrease in long-term health care costs. A SNAP-Ed program benefits not only program recipients but also American taxpayers. We believe strongly that Penn State Cooperative Extension is the right organization to lead the implementation of the SNAP-Ed program in Pennsylvania. In partnership with the existing extension network and other community organizations, it has the capability to lead the delivery of effective programs ensuring positive outcomes. The changes in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill puts the SNAP-Ed program in the hands of a nationwide educational system that would meet these challenges. Through Penn State Cooperative Extension, the SNAP-Ed program will be a continued success that helps low-income Pennsylvanians lead healthier lives, be better parents and learners and be more productive in their jobs.

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