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USDA Invests $139,000 to Improve Access to Telemedicine, Distance Learning for 77,000 People in Rural Nebraska

Nikki Gillespie
Release Date
Oct 22, 2021

Department also makes up to $1.15 billion available to help people living in rural communities’ access high-speed internet

LINCOLN, Nebr., Oct. 22, 2021 – United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Acting State Director Kim Martini today announced a $139,000 investment to expand telemedicine and distance learning opportunities for more than 77,000 people in rural Nebraska.

“Broadband infrastructure continues to be of large importance nationwide,” Martini said. “The past two years alone have seen the importance of this infrastructure only rise, especially in remote rural areas with greater physical and geographical barriers. Investments like those being highlighted today help to further bridge the ‘digital divide’ in rural communities by expanding access to important educational and health care services like distance learning and telemedicine.”

Background: Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants

Today’s awards are being funded through USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program. This program helps fund distance learning and telemedicine services in rural areas to increase access to education, training and health care resources that are otherwise limited or unavailable.

Examples of today’s investments: 

  • Mid-Plains Community College is receiving a $139,000 grant to purchase distance learning equipment that will provide access to dual credit courses; pre-requisite courses in health science occupations; required post-secondary courses leading to the acquisition of certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees; continuing education and community education courses; and workforce training. The technology will link eight schools in rural Nebraska benefit an estimated 77,000 rural residents.

These investments are in coordination with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement that USDA is investing $50 million in 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

Secretary Vilsack also announced a significant expansion of access to high-speed internet, health care and educational services for millions of rural Americans nationwide. This announcement continues to move forward President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda by prioritizing economic growth in rural America and investing in the backbone of our country – the middle class.

Background: ReConnect Program

Secretary Vilsack spoke about USDA’s commitment to helping rural Americans get improved access to broadband and health care during a visit to the newly renovated emergency department at Hammond Henry Hospital. The project was financed in part by a USDA loan.

He announced that on November 24 USDA will begin accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas. USDA is making the funding available through the ReConnect Program.

To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must serve an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload) and commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area. In making funding decisions, USDA will prioritize projects that will serve low-density rural areas with locations lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload).  In making funding decisions, the USDA will also consider, among other things, the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal Government, non-profit or cooperative.

USDA has simplified the application process and has expanded the program significantly. For example, reconnect will now offer 100 percent grants for certain projects on tribal lands and in socially vulnerable communities.

The Department plans to make available up to $200 million in Reconnect Program loans, up to $250 million in loan/grant combinations, up to $350 million in grants with a 25 percent matching requirement, and up to $350 million in grants with no matching requirement for projects in tribal and socially vulnerable communities.

For additional information on the upcoming Reconnect Program funding opportunity, see the Oct. 22, 2021, Federal Register (PDF, 319 KB). Once the application window opens, applications must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the Reconnect webpage. All required materials for completing an application are included in the online system.

To learn more about Reconnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.

Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans 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, Tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/ne. If you’d like to subscribe to USDA Rural Development updates, visit our GovDelivery subscriber page.