USDA is investing in 18 projects in 16 states to use communications technology to expand access to health care, substance misuse treatment and advanced educational opportunities.
"These investments will help provide better health care and educational opportunities for rural residents," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Hospitals, schools and training centers across the country are successfully using telecommunications to deliver quality educational and medical services. Telemedicine, for example, can help treat patients who are struggling with opioid and other substance use disorders that disproportionately affect rural areas by allowing rural hospitals to connect with resources in other health care facilities across the country to better diagnose and treat individuals."
In January, President Obama tapped Vilsack to lead an interagency effort focused on the rural opioid epidemic. Recent efforts have helped identify effective tools to reduce drug use and overdose, including evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. On Aug. 31, Vilsack announced an initiative to provide transitional housing for rural Americans in recovery from substance use disorders.
USDA is awarding $4.7 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program grants to support 11 distance learning and seven telemedicine projects. These will join the 80 DLT projects USDA announced July 14.
Funding for each project is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.
USDA Rural Development has provided $239.5 million for 729 DLT projects in rural areas nationwide since 2009. USDA's Rural Utilities Service, which administers the DLT program, also offers infrastructure programs that bring broadband, safe drinking water and improved wastewater treatment facilities to rural communities.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses; invested nearly $13 billion to start or expand nearly 112,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; and funded nearly 9,200 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities. USDA also has invested $31.3 billion in 963 electric projects that have financed more than 185,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines serving 4.6 million rural residents.