TOPEKA, Kan. — The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Acting State Director for Kansas Dan Fischer today announced it is investing $2.688 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. These Kansas projects will benefit more than 100,000 rural residents.
“Broadband provides rural Kansas residents with easier access to more resources,” Fischer said. “These investments by the Biden Administration will help Kansans living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives.”
Today’s announcement is part of a larger national announcement which includes $50 million going to 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico. These 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.
The details of the four Kansas projects are:
- The Diocese of Dodge City will receive an $824,630 grant for three schools to deliver high-quality distant learning services. The three schools are Holy Family School, St. Joseph Catholic School, and Sacred Heart School, which together serve approximately 300 students. This project provides real-time, interactive telecommunication distance learning equipment, to deliver educational instruction and substance use prevention training to students living in Great Bend, Ellinwood and Ness City. This project will also help connect rural schools to support rural residents throughout Southwest Kansas.
- The Kansas Department of Corrections will receive an $858,650 grant to build a telemedicine and distance learning network between 19 counties. This project will expand internet connectivity for distance education programs and behavioral health services at adult correctional facilities in Winfield, Norton, Stockton, El Dorado, Oswego, Ellsworth, Learned and Lansing. The project will provide 7,600 residents of the correctional facilities with the opportunity to access education programs, teacher resources, and secondary and post-secondary level instruction, while also expanding access to therapeutic services and support services to aide in their recovery process.
- Pawnee Mental Health Services will receive a $579,186 grant to expand user sites in Clay, Cloud, Jewell, Marshall, Mitchell, Pottawatomie, Republic and Washington counties. This project will enhance existing telehealth technology infrastructure and create new partnerships with rural hospitals, jails and the Pottawatomie Health Department, in order to improve access to mental health care for 70,000 residents.
- Morton County Health System will receive a $426,102 grant to purchase and install stationary and portable medical examination equipment to serve rural residents in Morton county, Kan. and Cimarron and Texas counties in Okla. The project will provide state of the art diagnosis and care to patients, in addition to opioid and substance abuse education. The total number of rural residents who will benefit from the project is estimated to be 144,000.
Background: ReConnect Program
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today also announced a significant expansion of access to high-speed internet, health care and educational services for millions of rural Americans nationwide.
On Nov. 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.
“For too long, the ‘digital divide’ has left too many people living in rural communities behind: unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources that all Americans need,” Vilsack said. “Rural people, businesses and communities must have affordable, reliable, high-speed internet so they can fully participate in modern society and the modern economy.”
To be eligible for ReConnect Program funding, an applicant must 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 (upload) and 3 Mbps (download). 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.
To learn more about ReConnect Program eligibility, technical assistance and recent announcements, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.
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— USDA Rural Development