Congress action and inaction affects our budget

News about funding uncertainties isn’t really new to those of us who’ve worked in MSUE for any part of the past decade. It doesn’t make it easier to wait on pins and needles, but it’s not new territory. We’ve spent the first three months of the federal fiscal year (which began Oct. 1, 2012), waiting for decision makers in Washington to let us know how much funding we’ll have to support our work this year, and though they extended the Farm Bill temporarily, they haven’t come to any concrete decisions.

While not deciding how much funding we have is one challenge, another is the decision that they did make to reduce the funding we had been granted in support of our nutrition programming for families with limited resources (SNAP-ED) by 28 percent for the current fiscal year.

We are working to find ways to minimize the impacts of a 28 percent budget reduction on the people we serve and the staff who serve our clients. That means we are holding off on filling open positions and looking at ways to make the most of funds remaining from last fiscal year and those available from other sources. Inevitably, it may mean we won’t be able to serve as many people as we had planned to serve or to serve them as frequently as we had planned. But we’re going to do our part to live up to our mission and commitments.

That’s the state of things in MSU Extension today. I shared details about how the resolution of the fiscal cliff crisis and the extension of the Farm Bill affects us on our MSUE Update webinar on Monday, Jan. 7. If you missed that, you can review the recording of the webinar.

During the past four years, we have worked hard in MSU Extension to position ourselves for an unpredictable future, anticipating that demands for our services would change and grow while resources from the public sector would likely shrink. The changes we expected have occurred: we still find a great deal of interest in our services, and decision makers and stakeholders are good at identifying new needs that call for our expertise and network of Extension professionals.  At the same time, federal funding has remained flat or declining and unpredictable. State funding was cut 15 percent two years ago after a decade of proposals that ranged from eliminating our state funding to reducing it by 25 to 50 percent.

Amid the turmoil, some stakeholders have expressed concerns about our commitment to the land-grant mission, a mission based on public investment in the provision of educational services and application of research to individuals, families, farms, businesses and communities at the local level. As we have adjusted to reduced funding, we’ve sought to embrace technology, organize ourselves to be smarter, put a premium on programmatic investments at the expense of administrative services, all in order to make sure that we are meeting the ideals of the land-grant mission in a 21st century setting.

MSU Extension staff and faculty members are out in the communities across the state, working to help people improve their lives. We’re doing our best to make sure they have the resources and support they need to get that job done. Regardless of what decision makers do or don’t do, we have a job to get done and we’re going to see that it gets done.

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