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

Amy Mund
Release Date

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced that USDA is awarding grants for 128 projects to increase access to job training, educational and health care services in rural areas.

“Empowering rural Americans with access to services for quality of life and economic development is critical to rural prosperity,” Secretary Perdue said. “Distance learning and telemedicine technology bridges the gap that often exists between rural communities and essential education, workforce training and health care resources.”

USDA is awarding $37 million through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program.  More than 4.5 million residents in 40 states and three territories will benefit from the funding. Many of the projects announced today will help combat the opioid crisis and other substance misuse issues.  In Colorado, four rural communities were assisted with funding totaling over $931,000.  “These are great examples of how technology and USDA Rural Development plays a critical role in rural Colorado communities”, said Sallie Clark, USDA Rural Development Colorado State Director. “Access to quality healthcare and education are important building blocks for our rural communities. We’re proud that USDA Rural Development is able to provide funding for educational and public safety needs through these grants for distance learning and telemedicine which in turn, assist our small towns and counties to leverage and e-connect quality resources that otherwise might not be available,” said Clark.  

Centennial Mental Health Center in Fort Morgan is being awarded $204,000 to provide regionally-based behavioral health telemedicine focused on the treatment of opioid misuse. This project will expand or replace telehealth treatment at their 11 health care clinics located in 10 counties in Northeastern Colorado.  Upgraded server and telehealth stations will connect approximately 2,000 rural clients through to trauma care, outpatient therapy, community support programs, crisis intervention, emergency response, substance misuse treatment, and child, adult and family counseling. It also will help retain 10 behavioral health care providers.

In Limon, the East Central Board of Cooperative Educational Services is being awarded $481,977 to implement interactive video classrooms and replace end-of-life equipment. The project will benefit 20 school districts by establishing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) distance learning-enabled classrooms/learning environments in eight counties located in East-Central Colorado. The project will form collaborative connections between teachers and STEM resources to increase STEM classes, improve quality of learning environments, and create active, engaged classroom experience for student-led STEM projects reaching more than 8,000 students across all grade levels

San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico will receive $177,736 for their Native American Access Project (NAAP) to provide Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education programs and training through the purchase and installation of distance learning equipment. The project will increase collaboration through the implementation of new interactive video equipment at one high school in La Plata County, Colorado, two high schools in San Juan County, New Mexico and one high school in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. The project provides network and video-conferencing equipment, increasing access to STEM education courses and dual credit courses, which includes collaboration with the Unlimited Learning Center offering medical training. The project provides advanced educational opportunities to schools with a minority-majority American Indian population and will increase all participating student’s success in college or a career and add content knowledge to practicing teachers.

Memorial Hospital in Craig, CO will receive a $67,320 grant purchase telemedicine equipment for their telehealth network.  The hospital and the Memorial Regional Health Medical Clinic will be connected to the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, UT and Regroup Therapy, Inc. in Chicago, IL. This project will provide northwestern Colorado patients with access to healthcare specialists at University of Utah Health as well as behavioral telehealth and tele-psychiatry specialists at Regroup Therapy Inc. The project will also include treatment for substance and opioid misuse.

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).   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.