Florida food stamp families learn while they wait

Florida food stamp families learn while they wait

Brenda. Schuler

Florida Food Stamp Families Learn While They Wait

With tight budgets, it’s a real challenge for government agencies to add new services these days. But, by making good use of training technology and by carefully using available resources, state food stamp managers in Florida have managed to add nutrition education to the services they regularly provide low-income families.

“It’s long been a desire of Florida to provide nutrition education to food stamp recipients,’ says Barbara Pogge, state food stamp nutrition education coordinator. “It’s an obvious need we have recognized for some time. When USDA’s Make Your Food Dollars Count project began and we were reminded that FNS will provide matching funds for nutrition education, we were prompted to go ahead and act on this need.’

In July 1985, the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services submitted to FNS a revised state plan of operation outlining the state’s plans for nutrition education. With this plan, Florida became the second state in the nation to implement a food stamp nutrition education component and qualify for federal matching funds for conducting client education activities.

Unlike Oklahoma, the first state to implement a nutrition education component, Florida did not have a staff of home economists who could assume the nutrition education activities. The state agency formed a task force to decide how training could best be delivered to food stamp clients.

Decided to use videotapes

Task force members thought it would not be fair to increase the duties of already overburdened local staff by adding new assignments related to nutrition education. Yet, to reach Florida’s large food stamp caseload of more than 600,000 people, a way was needed to widely disseminate information in an understandable form.

The task force concluded that showing videotapes on television monitors in food stamp waiting rooms was a good long-term approach to client education.

“We wanted to make sure we could capture people’s attention, hold it, and provide them with something useful and meaningful,’ explains Josie Colston, state food stamp program administrator. “Videotapes have proven to be effective in this way.’

“With videotapes, you don’t have to worry about the reading level of your client population,’ adds Pogge. “People don’t have to be able to read to watch television so you can reach uneducated clients and children of clients.

“Many times children remember what their mothers don’t remember. If you can reach children through the videotapes, they may influence their mothers to buy the nutritious foods they see and hear about.’

Video cassette players and television monitors have been purchased and placed in the 40 largest food stamp offices in Florida. These 40 offices serve 62 percent of the state’s caseload. Future plans include purchasing videotape equipment for 16 more offices, allowing the state to reach as much as 78 percent of the caseload. Ultimately, the food stamp staff would like to have equipment in every office.

Purchases were planned carefully

Colston and Pogge planned the equipment purchases carefully. With assistance from the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services’ public information staff, they researched the best equipment to buy, seeking not only good quality machines with the features they needed but also equipment that would not become quickly obsolete.

They polled local office staff to identify anticipated problems and tried to find solutions to those problems beforehand. For example, theft of the equipment was a major concern expressed by many local offices, so ways to deal with theft were developed to meet the needs of particular offices.

Some offices mounted the equipment high on a wall or placed it on movable carts which are wheeled into waiting rooms in the morning and then locked up in a secure place at night. Others placed it behind counters where it is easily viewed but is not accessible to clients or other people entering the waiting room.

“We also anticipated a tampering problem, particularly in offices where children could reach the dials of the television sets,’ says Pogge. “We bought equipment that is tamper proof. A button can be set on the back so that turning dials on the front of the television set has no effect.’

According to Pogge, using the equipment in local offices requires very little effort. A worker has been selected in each office to be in charge of the equipment and to start a videotape in the morning. The equipment is set up so that a videotape will rewind when it ends and then start over, playing continuously all day.

Many sources used for tapes

Pogge’s top priority now is building a videotape library to provide offices with a wide selection of materials to show clients. Every office with equipment has already received several 1-hour videotapes. The tapes contain a series of short segments, ranging from a maximum of 15 minutes to a minimum of 30 seconds in length, on a variety of nutrition issues.

Some of the segments are taken from slide/tape series or movies which have been converted to videotape. The short segments are television public service announcements. This format allows most clients to see at least one videotape segment in its entirety while they are waiting in the food stamp office.

USDA’s Make Your Food Dollars Count side/tape series on wise food purchasing was recorded and included on both of the first two videotapes developed for local offices.

Other videotapes, from a variety of sources, have included information on such topics as: following the dietary guidelines; dieting sensibly; limiting sodium; planning nutritious meals for the elderly; and purchasing, storing, and preparing foods from each of the four major food groups.

To interest clients’ children in future videotapes, Pogge hopes to locate some cartoon-type productions on nutrition topics to intersperse with the segments targeted towards adults.

WIC staff played important role

As a one-woman nutrition education staff, Barbara Pogge has, of necessity, learned to draw on the resources and expertise of others in establishing a nutrition education program. Staff of Florida’s WIC program, which is also administered by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, have been indispensable partners in developing the nutrition education program.

State WIC nutrition consultants, for example, spent hours reviewing nutrition education materials to find those appropriate for food stamp clients. Other WIC staff members provided initial production assistance and translated the Make Your Food Dollars Count slide/tape series into Spanish for videotaping.

Since 20 percent of Florida’s food stamp participants are Spanish-speaking, there is a real need for Spanish-language materials. The WIC program also serves a large number of Spanish-speaking participants, so the WIC staff will be able to use the translated slide/tape series for WIC nutrition education purposes as well.

Ann Rhode, Florida WIC program director, says, “When the food stamp staff contacted us about their need for a nutrition education program, we jumped at the opportunity to assist them. In Florida, we strongly believe in an integrated approach to client service and are always looking for ways to cooperate with other programs. We hope this project will be an innovative example for the rest of the nation.’

“Without WIC, we really couldn’t have done what we have,’ Pogge confirms. Besides the WIC staff, she has been assisted by a number of other offices in the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, including the public information staff and the Health Prevention Office, which has provided pamphlets for distribution at food stamp offices.

Outside the Department, Pogge is working with the Agricultural Extension Service’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), the Florida Department of Education’s Nutrition Education and Training (NET) Program, trade associations, and private industry groups to obtain materials and other resources.

Through networking, she hopes to be able to limit production costs for videotapes by taking advantage of high quality audiovisual materials already developed and not copyrighted. She and food stamp administrator Josie Colston would also like to explore arrangements with local universities for assistance in producing original videotapes for client education.

Videotapes will be used widely

Although purchasing video casette players and television monitors entails a large outlay of money, both Colston and Pogge believe showing videotapes is the most cost-effective approach to client education and much superior to relying on printed materials.

“If you look at the number of people we’re reaching, this approach is probably more cost effective than pamphlets,’ explains Pogge. “Once you’ve made a videotape, you have it permanently. Pamphlets get depleted. It takes 3,000 pamphlets to reach 3,000 people, but one videotape can reach that same number of people.

“Pamphlets from other governmental sources are disappearing because of budget reductions, and our own inhouse printing costs are rising. We can’t afford to give clients pamphlets they’ll just throw away.’

Pogge and Colston do, however, believe in making printed materials available for clients who want them and will use them. For example, at the Tallahassee food stamp office, where one of the video cassette players is located, a table in the waiting room is stacked with Make Your Food Dollars Count brochures for clients to read and take home with them. In offices without equipment, printed materials are used more extensively.

Regardless of cost considerations, the real test of Florida’s nutrition education approach is whether clients watch the videotapes and learn from them.

When asked about her reaction to a videotape playing in the Tallahassee food stamp office, Vanessa Edwards, a new food stamp applicant waiting to see an eligibility worker, responded, “Although I may not listen to every word, I listen when I hear something I don’t known, and I think, “That’s good. I’ll try that.”

On that particular day, Edwards said she had learned some new facts about types of meat and about how to prepare them. She added that she would like to see a videotape about the food stamp application process since, as a new applicant, she didn’t know what to expect.

Responding to Vanessa Edwards’ comments, Josie Colston says that while nutrition education is the primary purpose of the videotapes, she would like to include other client messages, such as information about the application process or about what foods can be purchased with food stamps, on the tapes in the future.

“Just think of all the different messages that can be delivered through this medium!’ she says.

Staff enthusiastic about the project

Staff at the Tallahassee food stamp office are enthusiastic about the nutrition education project and think it is working well. Pam Freeman, public assistance specialist supervisor, says clients have told her they enjoy the videotapes and ask her when new tapes will be available.

The videotape project is too new to assess its effect on clients’ food buying habits yet, but later the Florida food stamp staff is planning to conduct a client survey to evaluate the impact and to solicit topics for future videotapes.

While videotapes are Florida’s primary method of delivering nutrition education in food stamp offices, those offices that don’t yet have video equipment are not being ignored. A nutrition education contact person has been named in each district office of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and in each food stamp office within the districts.

Since the contact persons are adding nutrition education to their ongoing duties, Barbara Pogge has sent them a list of suggested nutrition education activities that can be accomplished with a minimum of staff time and effort.

Suggested activities include arranging for presentations by local EFNEP aides, displaying posters, stocking waiting rooms with brochures on nutrition education topics, starting “cents-off’ coupon exchange bins in waiting rooms, and preparing a monthly bulletin board on timely nutrition topics.

Pogge provides the contact persons with the materials they need to carry out the activities. She mails out a monthly packet to each office with materials on the bulletin board theme of the month. She also orders and supplies posters and brochures, and maintains a resource library in the state office from which local staff can borrow books to assist them in nutrition education activities.

Elderly and disabled clients who receive their food stamps by mail haven’t been forgotten either. Pogge is mailing a monthly insert with their food stamp allotments. The inserts are based on the themes of the Make Your Food Dollars Count brochures.

In just a year’s time, the Florida staff have made substantial progress toward providing nutrition education to all food stamp clients. They’ve shown, by example, that it’s not necessary to add extra staff to achieve this goal.

Photo: Florida is the second state in the country to add a nutrition education component to its food stamp program. Above: State food stamp administrator Josie Colston (right) meets with Barbara Pogge (left), food stamp nutrition education coordinator. Below: Program participant Vanessa Edwards watches a videotaped nutrition message in a Tallahassee food stamp office.

Photo: Right: Barbara Pogge places pins in a Florida map to show locations of food stamp offices having video equipment. Currently 40 offices have equipment for nutrition education messages.

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