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How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean

In a recent edition of Family Matters, Trina Adler, program leader in health and nutrition, exhorted us not to fly below the radar during times of budget scarcity, but rather to practice innovation. If you have not read her column, please do so now: Making Mistakes (or Pastries) in Times of Scarcity.

I bring up Trina’s column because on October 26, Family Development leadership conducted an FD Updates webinar on program business planning. When we introduced the program business planning process at Fall Program Conference last month, there were many questions that went unanswered on budget and other topics. We designed the webinar as an opportunity to answer those questions. If you were unable to view the webinar, you can find it here: FD Updates (sign in required).

One critical question that needed answering was this: What about our current financial situation is driving the need for program business planning? In the webinar, I briefly laid out the budget challenges faced by University of Minnesota, Extension, Family Development, and, specifically, SNAP-Ed. Financial constraints are prompting us to look for new ways to stretch our current resources and find new ones to support our work. Program business planning will help us plan how to invest resources so that we can operationalize and realize our vision, promise, and aims.

SNAP-Ed funding is uppermost on my mind at this time. Recently, I found an article on how to manage budget challenges in an organization. The key message focused on putting employees first. This meant communicating frequently and clearly, and engaging employees in the design for addressing the budget shortfall. My commitment to you is that we will communicate with you as openly as we can and involve you as much as we can as we make decisions.

Here’s another question that needs answering: How did we get to a place of financial constraint with SNAP-Ed funding when we appeared to have more than enough the last two years?

Two key developments over the last 18 months have led to this budget situation. In Spring 2015, we found that we were underspending our SNAP-Ed funds and were accruing a large “carry-forward” of funds from one fiscal year to the next. We needed to invest these resources — and quickly — or risk losing them. As a result, we hired additional program delivery staff, including Extension Educators, SNAP Ed Educators, Regional Coordinators, and temporary coordinators. We initiated a number of one-time projects, such as the SNAP-Ed Community Partnership Funding and purchasing tablets for educators and for use in a mobile lab.

We anticipated that we would spend down the carry-forward quickly — indeed, that was the goal. We did not anticipate the second key development, which I describe next, that would necessitate a dramatic change in the pace of our spending.

In Spring 2016, the Minnesota Department of Human Services gave us our estimated annual allocations for SNAP-Ed for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019. As you learned in the webinar two weeks ago, these amounts were significantly lower than anticipated. Compared to FY2014 funding of $8.4 million, the estimated funding levels for next three years are about 25 percent lower. This is a significant drop in funding.

Since July of this year, we have been reducing expenses for SNAP-Ed. A number of projects have been stopped, including a new urban office, and other projects have ended early. Appointments for several temporary staff members have ended earlier than planned and we have put a pause on all hiring. We continue to look for ways to cut operating expenses without hampering program delivery. These difficult steps have eased the shortfall we are experiencing, and more remains to be done to meet the reduced allocation. We have until the end of September 2018 to right size the program staff to the SNAP-Ed allocation we will receive. This is good news: We have time to make thoughtful decisions.

The SNAP-Ed grant makes up almost 60 percent of our funding in the center and the loss of funding will be felt by all. My promise to you is that Trish, Mary, and I will continue to communicate with you about our situation look for meaningful ways to involve you in addressing this funding cut.

This November, the SNAP-Ed leadership team — Mary Marczak, Trish Olson, Trina Adler, Mary Caskey, Margaret Haggenmiller, Ryan Johnson, and me — will design strategies for obtaining your input in meeting this budget challenge. On Monday, November 21, we will hold a webinar from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. to provide additional information about our financial situation and to share a draft plan for getting your input. Of course, if the situation warrants, we will communicate sooner than November 21.

News of this nature creates stress and uncertainty. And for those of who have been through reorganizations and job loss in the past, it can be traumatic. I encourage you to work with your supervisor and to seek out the Employee Assistance Program; both are important resources for coping during times of change.

Finally, thank you for being part of the Extension team. By working together, we can meet the challenges before us.
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