The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $72 million in distance learning and telemedicine infrastructure in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The funding, announced Oct. 7, will impact more than 12 million rural residents, USDA said in a press release.

“Increasing access to telemedicine and distance learning is critical to building healthier and more resilient rural communities,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Paired with our monumental effort to expand high-speed broadband access in rural America, these investments will help rural health care centers and education institutions reach more rural residents with essential services and opportunities.”

The investments come at a critical moment as schools have shifted to distance and hybrid and doctors are relying on telemedicine to stem the spread of COVID-19.

As part of the investment, USDA will fund 116 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program aids schools and healthcare institutions in buying equipment and software necessary to deploy distance-learning and telemedicine services to rural residents.

Sec. Perdue said the money will fund projects in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

In a press statement, USDA highlighted a handful of projects:

  • The Texas-based Epic Charter School will use a $969,327 grant to link urban schools in Oklahoma and Texas with rural schools, students, and community partners in both states. The school will provide Science, Technology, Engineering and Math courses, Career and Technical Education certifications, Advance Placement/concurrent college courses, professional development, and opioid education services. The school will use its funding to purchase interactive video conferencing equipment.
  • The Bluegrass Care Navigators, based in Lexington, Ky., will use a $500,000 grant to establish a regional telemedicine network with a hub site at its headquarters. USDA said that an additional three hub sites will also be established to meet the needs of seriously and terminally ill patients across 16 counties in southeastern Kentucky. The hubs will contain designated virtual conference rooms to facilitate continuing education and professional development for clinicians as well as a specialized workspace and telemedicine equipment for conducting high-quality virtual visits.
  • In Wisconsin, the Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10 will use a $1 million grant to upgrade distance learning technology that will allow for cloud-based bridging and provide videoconferencing endpoints at 39 school districts in 14 counties in west-central Wisconsin. The funding will ensure that students in rural districts have the same access to technology and services available in urban and metropolitan areas.
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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs