Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced investments to improve rural community infrastructure, provide essential services and improve access to health care across rural America through Rural Development’s Community Facilities (CF) program. Today’s investments in health facilities and support for first responders comes as the department celebrates National Rural Health Week.
“Rural America deserves quality, affordable health care, but too often local communities lack the capital to invest in improving the facilities that deliver that care,” Vilsack said. “I am especially proud of the role that USDA plays in addressing the critical needs for health care facilities, including mental health facilities.”
With today’s announcement, Secretary Vilsack said that the department has eclipsed a goal, set in December of 2013, to investing up to $50 million in CF funds over the subsequent three years to develop or improve mental health facilities and services in rural areas. CF funding in 2015 more than quadrupled that goal in just two years, funding more than $213 million in 80 projects in 34 states.
Among the awards to support health care services, buildings and equipment is a $91 million loan USDA provided to the Avita Health System in Galion, Ohio. Avita will use the funds to convert the former Lazarus department store building in the Richland Mall in Ontario, Ohio, into a multi-specialty health care facility. USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Vernita Dore spoke in Ohio today at the groundbreaking ceremony. Once completed, the 197,500-square-foot facility will create 352 jobs and provide health care to nearly 125,000 residents in portions of three counties in North Central Ohio.
Allendale County, S.C., one of the poorest in the state, is receiving $366,800 in grants to improve a variety of public safety and other services, including the purchase of a vehicle for the Office of Aging to transport local seniors to health care and other facilities. Allendale and the surrounding "Lowcountry" was designated by the Obama Administration as a Promise Zone where the federal government will partner with and invest in communities to promote economic growth. The county is also served by USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Through StrikeForce, USDA leverages resources and collaborates with partners and stakeholders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life in communities that need our services the most.
Another health care investment is a $7.5 million loan for Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Inc. in Seaford, Del., to connect two buildings to a larger complex. Nanticoke Memorial serves approximately 30,000 residents in Delaware and Maryland.
The University of Pikeville (Ky.), in the heart of Appalachia, is an example of an organization that is using USDA assistance to improve rural communities. The university received two Community Facilities loans totaling $50 million in September 2014 and April 2015 to build a health education building that will house the new Kentucky College of Optometry. The college will help provide much-needed services to area residents. One out of four Kentucky counties lacks a practicing optometrist, and only one out of 10 counties has enough optometrists to meet residents’ needs.
In addition to health investments, the CF program invested in a wide variety of projects to address local rural community needs. In Minnesota, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians is receiving a $1.4 million loan to help build a community center. Woodruff County, Ark., is getting a $50,000 grant to install an elevator in the courthouse to provide access for people with disabilities. The town of Rosedale, Miss., has been selected for a $39,000 grant to purchase two police cars. And in Oklahoma, operators of the Coalgate Airport will use a $50,000 grant to improve airport security and enhance fire protection services.
Fifteen recipients receiving funding today were given priority points through a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that encourages communities to adopt regional economic development plans. These projects are centered on regional collaboration and long-term growth strategies. They leverage outside resources and capitalize on a region’s unique strengths. The city of Ash Flat, Ark., received regional development priority points to purchase training equipment for the fire department. Also in Arkansas, Woodruff received a $50,000 grant to install an elevator in the historic county courthouse to make it accessible for people with disabilities.
Since 2009, USDA has awarded $9.7 billion under its Community Facilities programs, including $4.9 billion for 1,052 health care projects; $266 million for improvements to 206 public schools; $133 million for 555 libraries; $39 million for 240 day care centers; and $791 million to support 4,876 public safety facilities in rural areas.
Funding of each grant and loan announced today, which amounts to more than $1.2 billion in new projects, is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the funding agreement. The funding announced today will bring CF funding up to $1.8 billion over the course of the fiscal year 2015.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has produced historic investments in rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have strengthened America’s small towns and cities and helped improve the nation’s economy.