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

Investments Will Benefit 5 Million Rural Residents

Columbia, S.C., 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. 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 Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density,” USDA South Carolina Acting State Director for Rural Development Marty Bright-Rivera said. “USDA is committed to working with the local communities to provide services which allows rural America equal access to quality healthcare and education, because we know when we work together, America prospers.”

A recent report 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.

Background:

USDA is funding 86 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. Four of these projects were funded in South Carolina. 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 projects announced in South Carolina today:
• The School District of Pickens County is receiving a $845,291grant. It will be used to establish distance learning systems and digital resources in seven rural communities in Pickens County. The system will deliver community support, dual-credit and foreign language courses; virtual field trips; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses; and professional development opportunities. It also will expand personalized learning for nearly 19,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
•Clinton College will use a $499,950 grant to establish a distance learning system to connect with libraries, churches and adult learning centers for residents in 12 counties in rural South Carolina. Funding will provide workforce-focused certificates and college degree programs to adult learners. In addition, North Carolina Central University School of Law will provide pre-law courses and free virtual legal clinics, which provide interactive training on civil
• The McLeod Regional Med Center of the Pee Dee will use a $697,674 grant to provide telehealth services to rural communities in Clarendon, Chesterfield, Marlboro and Lower Florence counties. Telehealth platforms will be installed at several public schools in the area to help students receive primary care visits and medication prescriptions. In addition, a platform will be placed in primary care offices in Manning and Cheraw to enable pulmonologists to perform remote visits on patients with lung ailments, helping them receive high-quality care from home.
• The Williamsburg County School District will use a $792,441 grant to establish a distance learning system to make dual enrollments available to students at colleges and universities in Williamsburg County. It will also expand Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives for 3,700 students and provide training for teachers in Greeleyville, Hemingway, Lane, Kingstree, Salters and Stuckey.

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.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/sc.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov/sc.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender


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