Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced that USDA is awarding grants for broadband projects to increase access to job training, educational and health care services in rural areas in 35 states.
“Broadband technology helps provide career opportunities and deliver critical medical services to rural residents,” Hazlett said. “It allows rural hospitals to better diagnose and treat patients. It helps treat people who are struggling with opioid and other substance use disorders. It also helps bring jobs to rural areas.”
USDA is awarding 72 grants totaling $23.6 million through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program. This program funds equipment that uses broadband to help rural communities connect to advanced learning and specialized medical services. Two New Mexico projects are among those funded.
Art Garcia, USDA Rural Development New Mexico State Director, underscored the need for broadband in a state that is 1.6 times the area of New England. “More than 60 percent of our population is spread across more than 120,000 square miles,” he said. “These investments are critical to our rural residents who will soon be able to travel a cyber highway to better healthcare, education, jobs and a future that are no longer beyond their reach.”
- New Mexico Junior College is receiving $411,350 to connect to four end-user sites in Tatum, Eunice, Lovington and Jal. The project will create an environment that facilitates the development of distance learning instruction. It will support first-generation college students and will encourage faculty participation in distance learning initiatives. It also will support the development of instructional technology courses and materials.
- Western New Mexico University is receiving $191,589 to purchase video conferencing equipment to provide interactive distance learning services. The project will benefit one hub and eight end-user sites in six communities by providing video conferencing units and software. It will enable high school students to take dual-enrollment courses, provide virtual experiences and expand professional development opportunities for educational staff. The equipment also will give community residents access to employment training.
USDA’s DLT program has a strong record of supporting rural health care and educational programs in New Mexico. For example, New Mexico Highlands University used USDA funding to connect six Diné college locations to Highlands’ curriculum. USDA funding also supported the non-profit Nizhoni Smiles connect high schools and Native American Chapter Houses to various health providers in San Juan County. The program uses telemedicine to deliver dental services to patients across the 5500 square mile county. The Region IX Education Cooperative also used DLT funding to connect seven schools, within a remote three-county region, to Eastern New Mexico University programs.
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 services such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.