“USDA Invests $42 Million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine Infrastructure to Improve Education and Health Outcomes:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2021 – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it is investing $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities (PDF, 255 KB). Rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires a historic federal response. These investments by the Biden Administration will help millions of people living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come.”

recent report (PDF, 214 KB) by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, USDA ERS – Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from Coronavirus COVID-19

 

Rural
Percent

 

Urban
Percent

 

 Underlying health conditions (ages 20 to 84)

23.7

3.0

 Older adult population scale

15.9

4.0

 Lacking health insurance (ages 25 to 64)

20.2

10.5

 Distance to county with an intensive care hospital

11.3

0.3

The table above is from the USDA ERS January 2021 report: Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death from Coronavirus COVID-19

Background:

USDA is funding 86 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program helps rural education and health care entities remotely reach students, patients and outside expertise. These capabilities make world-class education and health care opportunities accessible in rural communities. The ability to use telehealth resources is critical, especially now during a global pandemic.

USDA announced investments today in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Below are examples of projects announced today:

  • In Georgia, the Morehouse School of Medicine Inc. will use a $997,194 grant to purchase interactive telecommunications, distance learning and telemedicine equipment. Equipment will be installed in service hubs in two counties in west-central Georgia. It will be used to provide a variety of health care services to residents in underserved rural areas of nine counties across the state. These services include mental health and substance abuse treatment and counseling; clinical services; referrals for specialty care; health education and career development to schools; and chronic disease diagnosis, treatment and management, including COVID-19.
  • The Fall Mountain Regional School District in New Hampshire is receiving a $995,158 grant. It will provide distance learning services in Cheshire and Sullivan counties. Distance learning will enable schools to share instructional resources, provide cultural literacy and career pathways programs for students, and provide professional development opportunities. The grant will also help the district respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Oklahoma’s Okmulgee Public School District is being awarded a $756,760 grant to provide distance learning services in Creek and Okmulgee counties. Schools will expand course offerings and provide professional development opportunities. The schools will use videoconferencing and interactive display panels to expand the curriculum, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses. The equipment this grant provides will help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by enabling students to participate in virtual field trips and join classes from home.

To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.

In January, President Biden requested all parts of the federal government to contribute resources to contain the coronavirus pandemic. USDA is responding to the President’s call to action. To date, more than 350 USDA personnel have deployed to assist with standing up vaccination sites, for example. In addition to personnel, USDA is offering its facilities, cold chain infrastructure, public health experts, disaster response specialists, and footprint in rural and Tribal communities across the country. USDA’s commitment to control the pandemic extends to our own staff and facilities, with masking and physical distancing requirements across USDA, a commitment to provide PPE to our front-line workers, and working with states to prioritize vaccinations for our workforce. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/coronavirus. USDA also encourages people seeking health insurance to go to HealthCare.gov now through May 15th due to a special enrollment period. If you are recently uninsured due to a job loss or between jobs, find a plan at HealthCare.gov and keep it for as long as you need it.

If you’d like to subscribe to USDA Rural Development updates, visit our GovDelivery subscriber page.

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