The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is investing $42.3 million to help rural residents gain access to health care and educational opportunities. Rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. The $42.3 million in awards includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments will benefit 5 million rural residents.
“The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires an historic federal response. These investments by the Biden Administration will help millions of people living in rural places access health care and education opportunities that could change and save lives,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come.”
USDA is funding 86 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program helps rural education and health care entities remotely reach students, patients and outside expertise. These capabilities make world-class education and health care opportunities accessible in rural communities. The ability to use telehealth resources is critical, especially now during a global pandemic.
Projects announced in Oklahoma:
- Cameron University will use a $412,090 grant to establish a distance learning network to link the university to 28 rural school districts, in 10 Oklahoma counties. The schools will deliver Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and college courses to high school juniors and seniors.
- Lane Public Schools will use a $550,000 grant to establish a distance learning program for students and adults in five school districts in two southeast Oklahoma counties. Additional courses will be offered through a partnership with a local career technology center. Interactive video rooms will be added to end-user sites enabling the districts to offer professional development and school courses for students. In the event of a school shutdown, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this investment will enable teachers and students to stay connected.
- Okmulgee Public School District will use a $756,760 grant to provide distance learning services in Creek and Okmulgee counties. Schools will expand course offerings and provide professional development opportunities. The schools will use videoconferencing and interactive display panels to expand the curriculum, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses. The equipment this grant provides will help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by enabling students to participate in virtual field trips and join classes from home.
To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.