EARS Overview


Purpose
FNS has developed an ongoing reporting system for the nutrition education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The system is called Education and Administrative Reporting System (EARS) that will provide uniform data and information about the nutrition education activities of all participating States across the country. The data collected under this system will include demographic characteristics of participants receiving nutrition education benefits, information about education strategies and content, as well as resource use. The EARS system will provide FNS with uniform national data and information that will inform management decisions, support policy initiatives, provide documentation for legislative, budget and other requests, and support planning within the agency.

The information collected from this reporting system will be used by FNS to inform program and policy decisions and to respond to requests from Congress.

Background
SNAP is the largest nutrition assistance program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2010, the Program served 41 million people each month. Nutrition education is an important but optional part of SNAP that plays an essential role in assisting SNAP recipients in making healthy food and active lifestyles choices.

Currently, 52 States agencies provide nutrition education as a part of SNAP. States submit an annual report containing some demographic information and a summary of progress in implementing prior year's plans. However, there is wide variation in the type of information provided. The phenomenal growth of SNAP education (SNAP-Ed) over the last several years is a testament to both its importance and popularity.

Many factors contribute to the growth of SNAP-Ed. The alarming increase in diet-related diseases, overweight, and obesity has resulted in growing recognition of the value of nutrition education in both helping SNAP participants become more self-sufficient but also in improving their chances for a healthier and more productive life. Federal and State policy makers are also more aware of the value of nutrition education in helping SNAP recipients provide their families with a nutritious diet.

The rapid growth of the Program presents EARS with a number of challenges. One of the challenges identified in the April 28, 2000 OANE report of SNAP-Ed is the need to develop reporting systems to report both the number of clients being served by agencies, and agency progress in meeting goals and objectives. EARS is a step forward in meeting this challenge.

Data from the this reporting system will aid EARS in documenting the scope and reach of nutrition education provided through SNAP as well as progress in meeting goals and objectives.

Approach
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) initiated the development of EARS in 2003. To ensure that the report reflected the needs of both EARS and States, the agency used a collaborative approach in developing the reporting system by convening an EARS work group of diverse experts for this purpose. The EARS work group consisted of stakeholders with a wide range of skills and expertise relevant to this task, including people from the State, local, and federal levels, as well as academia. EARS also retained the services of contractors to facilitate the activities of the work group and to aid in planning and testing the reporting system.

The developmental process also allowed ample opportunities for input from other stakeholders, advocates and other interested parties. The process allowed opportunities for both informal and formal comments periods through development. In addition, EARS obtained the services of a contractor to test the form in six States.

OMB Clearance
Initial Clearance: FNS submitted the EARS ICR to OMB on January, 10, 2007. FNS received feedback from OMB in April 2007. After extensive negotiations, FNS and OMB staff reached an agreement on all issues on August 14, 2007. This included a commitment by FNS to integrate EARS and the annual narrative report to eliminate duplications and link these efforts.

OMB Approved Extension: On August 20, 2010, the Office of Management and Budget approved a three year extension for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program's (SNAP) Education and Administrative Reporting System (EARS) form. The information will provide an annual description of SNAP-Education (SNAP-ED) administration and activities in each State. It will improve USDA's oversight capacity and inform SNAP-Ed policies and practices in the future.

Implementation
Under the current schedule, States began submitting data for EARS at the end of FY2008. States had a grace period of about 3 years to collect and report data from all data elements and components in EARS applicable to them. By 2010 all States were to be in full compliance.

To facilitate reporting and analysis of this data, FNS has developed an online EARS submission system that utilizes the current FNS reporting infrastructure. This system is a component of the current Food Program Reporting System (FPRS) and the National Data Bank (NDB).

Training and Technical assistance are essential components of the implementation plan. FNS has obtained the services of a contractor to assist in developing, testing, coordinating and implementing the EARS training. Training was started in FY2008 and continued through FY2009 as needed. A self-paced online training module titled "An Introduction to EARS" is available from the EARS Training section of the SNAP-Ed Connection Web site.