The USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program is investing almost $72 million in 116 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 40 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The money can be used for equipment and software to support distance learning and telemedicine.
The projects are expected to impact more than 12 million rural citizens. The projects are in Alaska (7 projects), Alabama (6), Arizona (3), California (4), Colorado (1), Florida (3), Georgia (4), Iowa (2), Idaho (1), Illinois (6), Kansas (8), Kentucky (7), Louisiana (9), Maryland (1), Maine (1), Michigan (2), Missouri (4), Mississippi (4), Montana (2), Minnesota (1), Nebraska (1), North Carolina (7), North Dakota (3), New Hampshire (2), Nevada (2), New York (4), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (1), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (4), South Carolina (4), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (5), Texas (5), Virginia (4), Vermont (1), Washington (1), Wisconsin (2), West Virginia (1), Wyoming (1), Puerto Rico (2) and the Virgin Islands (1).
The number of programs listed exceeds 116 because some projects cross state lines. The total investment through the USDA distance learning and telemedicine program is $71,541,031.
The disparities between rural and urban/suburban medical and learning opportunities have long been an issue, and the issue has come into greater focus since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Private industry and the government have made significant investments in meeting the challenge.
The FCC and the USDA have led the effort at the federal level.
The FCC, through the Wireline Competition Bureau, has contributed to both rural and non-rural telehealth initiatives. Most recently, it awarded $16.46 million for COVID-19-related projects in 19 states and Washington, DC. That brought the COVID-19 Telehealth program awards total to $84.96 million for 238 health care providers across 41 states and Washington, D.C.
In addition to many other rural development programs, the USDA is also very active with the ReConnect program, which provides funding for rural broadband deployments. That program is in its second round. The first round invested about $698 million and the second round is adding $550 million more. The program got a $100 million infusion through the CARES Act, which was passed in March to help alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2019, the USDA distance learning and telemedicine program took aim at the opioid crisis, which is severe in rural America. It awarded 30 special consideration points for applications for projects that support opioid treatment services in 220 at-risk communities.