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First USDA Rural Child Poverty Nutrition Center Coming To UK

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Josh James
/
WUKY

The University of Kentucky will house the nation’s first USDA Rural Child Poverty Nutrition Center thanks to a $2.5 million dollar federal investment.

When it comes to meeting the challenge of improving nutrition for poor children in rural communities, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says the school is a natural fit.

"15.8 million of our children live in food insecure homes and many of them live in the state of Kentucky in some of the poorer areas. You've got a child poverty rate around 26 percent," he said during an appearance at UK.

Vilsack visited UK Thursday to unveil plans for a center that will research new strategies for getting more healthy food into the mouths of children whose options are too often limited by location and financial means.

The center will be part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, where Dean Nancy Cox says a staff of close to 20 will be assessing grant applications from rural counties across the country.

"We will go on site to travel to meet with those to help evaluate because it's not just offering the programs that we need to do, it's evaluating whether they really worked," she says.

Cox says the hope is that the best programs will bubble to the top and serve as models for other states.

Surprise Announcement

During his trip to Lexington Thursday, Vilsack dropped a surprise announcement on both guests and Governor Steve Beshear. The state, he says, is set to receive close to $20 million in federal funds to research ways to move unemployed Kentuckians into steady jobs and off of food assistance programs.

Vilsack criticized efforts by lawmakers to “arbitrarily reduce SNAP participation,” adding that the problem deserves thoughtful study and Kentucky has the tools needed.

"There may transportation barriers. There may be childcare issues. There may be a veteran dealing with the difficulties of returning from war and the mental issues involved. It could be a lot of those things. Well, how do we help those folks? How do we actually get those numbers of SNAP participants down the right way?" the secretary said.

Children, the elderly, and the disabled account for 80 percent of SNAP benefits. Vilsack says the remaining 20 percent are required to work or go to school at least 20 hours a week or see their benefits sharply reduced.