USDA invests $42M in telehealth infrastructure

In a move to help rural residents gain access to healthcare and educational opportunities, the United States Department of Agriculture is investing $42.3 million in telemedicine and distance learning infrastructure.


Rural areas have greater infection and death rates from COVID-19 because of 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. The investments will benefit five million rural residents in total.


The Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis recently issued a report that found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4% higher than in urban areas.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service recently issued a report that underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Because of a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities and care than urban residents, Economic Research Service analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

Overall, the USDA is funding 86 projects through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program, which is designed to help rural education and healthcare organizations remotely reach students, patients and outside expertise.

On another governmental telehealth front, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services signaled his support for telehealth during a Senate confirmation hearing.

And on another front, the Massachusetts FQHC Telehealth Consortium has been awarded a grant from the Federal Communications Commission to increase telemedicine capacity in community health centers statewide. The consortium is made up of 35 federally qualified health centers.


“The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that requires a historic federal response. These investments by the Biden Administration will help millions of people living in rural places access healthcare and education opportunities that could change and save lives,” said newly sworn in Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.

“USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities,” he continued. “With healthcare 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.”

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