Technically, University of Missouri Extension is a state operation.
But the continuing partial shutdown of the federal government is having an impact on one popular Extension program and could affect others unless Congress and President Barack Obama come to terms.
The Missouri Department of Social Services recently advised Extension locations statewide — including the Nodaway County office in Maryville — that federally funded nutrition education programs were to be shut down until further notice.
Nodaway County Program Director Randa Doty said Monday that other Extension initiatives, a number of which depend on federal grants, could fall victim to the shutdown as well if the impasse in Washington, D.C., continues.
The nutrition education suspension affects more than 100 Extension faculty and staff statewide along with the clients they serve, which include 260,000 K-12 students and 78,000 adults.
Sue Robison, the Extension nutrition program associate for Nodaway, Andrew and Worth counties, said suspending the program locally has affected 460 clients, most of them children attending either area elementary schools or Head Start.
Normally, Robison's job consists of teaching lessons built around age-specific curriculums embracing physical fitness, nutrition and food safety.
She makes the presentations in schoolrooms and also at agencies, such as the Maryville Ministry Center, that serve adults and families eligible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
In Nodaway County, Extension's nutrition education program has been around for about 20 years.
Eugene Field Elementary Principal Holly Brady said Robison's weekly visit's are an important part of the school's nutrition and fitness curriculum, not least because they allow school nurse Christine Allenbrand and physical education teacher Joe Masciovecchio to spend more time covering other subjects. Brady added that Robison said she intends to make up the lost instructional hours at Eugene Field after the shutdown ends. Worst case, should the shutdown continue for an extended period, Brady said the school would be able to continue offering a full nutrition curriculum in house.
In order to "minimize long-term disruption," Extension officials in Columbia said last week they plan to fund the affected positions through Oct. 21. However, if permanent funding is not restored by then, Extension may be forced to issue layoff notices due to insufficient internal resources.
So for the time being anyway, Robison still has a job, though she is confined to her office and not allowed to work in the field.
Extension officials said that while temporary funding covers payroll, there isn't enough money for travel, supplies and other expenses needed to maintain programming.
Faced with the prospect of being without a paycheck in a couple of weeks, Robison said she is nevertheless more worried about children who need to learn the importance of eating right and getting enough exercise.
Page 2 of 2 - "We want to encourage knowledge and behavior changes," she said. "If we can keep one child from developing heart disease or diabetes, then that's worth it. I want to be able to help build healthier communities. My concern is for the students."
State Extension Director and MU Vice Provost Michael Ouart said temporarily keeping nutrition educator positions on the payroll imposes a financial burden on the university. But he added that immediate layoffs could mean even greater costs for severance pay and related expenses.
Layoffs would also increase the cost of resuming family nutrition programs once funding is restored, he said.
"If at all possible, we do not want to lose these employees and the investment we have made in them," Ouart said. "These employees have built valuable relationships in communities all across Missouri. Losing them would have long-lasting effects on the health and eating habits of future generations of Missouri's children."
Extension nutrition education programs take place at more than 1,000 schools, libraries, pantries and social services agencies statewide and receive $10.4 million in federal funding annually.