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USDA Announces Funding to Increase Access to Education, Workforce Training and Health Care Opportunities in Rural Communities

Nikki Gillespie
Release Date

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development State Director for Minnesota Brad Finstad today announced more than $600,000 to increase access to job training, education and health care services in rural areas.

   “Providing opportunities for rural communities to access services that improve quality of life and economic infrastructure is essential to continued prosperity of rural America,” Finstad said. “Funding for distance learning and telemedicine helps rural communities remain competitive and desirable locations to live by helping finance affordable education, workforce training and health care services.”

   For example, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is being awarded $368,221 to help purchase telemedicine equipment that will create a telehealth network in Carlton, St. Louis, and Hennepin counties and provide enhanced medical services, including treatment for opioid misuse and skill development for current healthcare professionals. Virtual reality headsets and related content modules will be purchased to help pain management and other related treatments. A mobile care vehicle will be used to travel seven sites on rotation, as well as provide in-home healthcare services. Services will benefit nearly 250,000 residents.

   East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) is being awarded $249,027 to purchase and install interactive video distance learning telecommunications equipment. This equipment will provide critically needed learning opportunities focused on workforce readiness, world language and college credit courses to secondary students in 12 rural East Central Minnesota school districts, 13 rural districts in Southwest Minnesota and three rural districts in Northwest Minnesota. Additionally, students in 37 elementary, middle and high schools through Southwest Minnesota will have access to video technology to provide experiential learning, student support services and other collaborative activities benefitting 125,355 residents in total.

   Today’s awards are in coordination with the recent announcement made by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that USDA is awarding $37 million through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program for 128 projects in 40 states and three territories. More than 4.5 million residents will benefit from the funding. Many of the projects announced will help combat the opioid crisis and other substance misuse issues. 

Below are summaries of some of USDA’s investments in other states:

  • Washburn University, in Kansas, is being awarded $349,213 to help provide resources to enable two-way interactive distance learning via video teleconferencing technology. The technology will help develop workplace skills that are increasingly needed in the modern, technical work environment. The resources provided through this investment will enable rural students across Kansas to obtain these skills. Additionally, this investment will be used to recruit and retain health care workers for rural communities. More than 3,700 students will have access to the educational opportunities proposed with this project, including students in a high school in the Lawrence-Gardener Juvenile Corrections Center.

  • St. Anthony Hospital, in Oklahoma, is receiving $457,020 to help SSM Health Care of Oklahoma purchase telemedicine equipment to expand its Saints 1st Telehealth Network to serve up to 3,434 inpatients and 3,401 outpatients. This project will reduce time and expense for patients to access specialized medical services such as cardiology, endocrinology, pulmonology, ENT (ear, nose and throat), pediatric, hospitalist, primary care, and mental health care. Telemedicine links will be established at 12 hub/end-user locations in Beaver, Blaine, Custer, Garvin, Harper, Kiowa, Lincoln, Major, McClain, Washita, and Woods counties. Project sites include nine rural hospitals and three rural physician practices. This project will significantly improve health care in the affected areas.

    In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.

   To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

   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.