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Program still making difference for low-income Kentucky families

Program still making difference for low-income Kentucky families

Program still making difference for low-income Kentucky families

The USDA program that gives nutrition and food dollar advice to low-income families - EFNEP - turns 30 this year, but it's looking remarkably young for its age. That's because its clients need it now more than ever.

"EFNEP is an example of UK's Cooperative Extension Service working directly with welfare recipients," said Julie Zimmerman, assistant Extension professor in rural sociology. "With welfare reform placing a 60-month limit on cash assistance, programs that support low-income families become even more critical."

Zimmerman cited a recent UK study that found that a rural single mother with two children could not meet monthly expenses with a minimum wage job and no other assistance. In fact, the study showed that the mother would have to earn twice the minimum wage to make ends meet.

"Even though we now have a change in welfare philosophy and a focus on employment, support programs for the working poor - such as EFNEP - become more important because employment alone will often not be at a sufficient wage for economic independence," said Zimmerman.

EFNEP is the federally funded Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program conducted through the Cooperative Extension Service in every state and U.S. territory. Kentucky's EFNEP uses UK county Extension agents, state Extension specialists, paraprofessionals, and volunteers to serve families in 55 counties. Many of these families receive government cash assistance and food stamps.

"Most people, regardless of income level, lack the knowledge and skill to maximize their food dollar," said Kathy Daly-Koziel, state EFNEP coordinator. "The lessons EFNEP teaches apply to everyone, but are crucial for a family on a limited income."

According to Daly-Koziel, food stamps are issued at the beginning of each month, and it's not unusual to see them run out during the third week. "When that happens," she said, "we see moms start skipping meals, kids depending on school lunch for their primary intake, and slim pickings at the dinner table until the start of the new month. When school is out of session the picture is even more bleak."

EFNEP works with limited resource families to prevent just this kind of situation. The program teaches food resource management practices that result in adequate food and meals through the end of the month. EFNEP traditionally targets families with small children. Families can be either single-parent or duel-parent households. When they enroll they receive a nutrition analysis of their diet. EFNEP paraprofessionals combine this analysis with a family's food and nutrition interests to determine what educational information is appropriate.

"We conduct lessons on how to shop more effectively, how to save money, how to safely handle and store food so it doesn't spoil, how to maintain good sanitation, and how to maintain good health by eating a variety of nutritious foods," said Daly-Koziel. "We also teach food preservation techniques like canning or freezing, and even gardening methods when its appropriate for the situation."

Although EFNEP helps families realize direct savings, it also provides indirect savings associated with illness and other health related expenses.

"For example, we teach eating the Food Guide Pyramid way. By following this, a person with diabetes can maintain better control of their blood sugar. That can translate into a savings of $300 per year in medications and $3000 per year in hospital expenses because of our interventions," said Daly-Koziel.

EFNEP also works with pregnant teens. "If we can get a pregnant teenager to eat well and improve the birth weight of the baby, that infant may avoid going into a neonatal intensive care unit - a potential savings of $100,000 in medical bills."

Since its start in 1969, it's estimated that EFNEP has affected the lives of nearly a million Kentucky families, and more than a million youth through 4-H EFNEP. The results have often been dramatic.

"I know of a woman whose mother was enrolled in EFNEP 25 years ago, and the woman herself participated in the 4-H EFNEP program at her local school," said Daly-Koziel. "The woman credits EFNEP with teaching her to eat properly, to prepare foods, to pursue more education, and to achieve self confidence. Today that woman is a successful medical office manager for two doctors."

Daly-Koziel said many times EFNEP has played a role in parents being allowed to keep their children. "After going into homes where sanitation and nutrition were poor and parents were in danger of losing custody of their children, EFNEP has helped parents improve their living conditions and keep their family together," said Daly-Koziel. "EFNEP is about helping people help themselves."

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Contact Information

Scovell Hall Lexington, KY 40546-0064