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Michigan Part of $42 Million USDA Distance Learning and Telemed Funds
Michigan Ag Connection - 02/26/2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Thursday 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."

Michigan has two projects.

Lake Superior State University will use a $787,118 grant to upgrade and expand the distance-learning network among Lake Superior State University, the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District, regional community colleges and local library sites. Thirty-two sites in seven Michigan counties will be equipped with computers, cameras, microphones, monitors and supporting materials that will enable interactive instruction across a network of classrooms.

The Universal Health and Kidney Foundation will use a $548,270 grant to connect health care providers and educators to patients in the counties of Genesee, Luce, Lake and Clare in rural Michigan. The Universal Health and Kidney Foundation's main office will host a videoconferencing bridge to connect all sites to tele-consults and health education services. The foundation's training center in Flint will host three provider telemedicine workstations. Providers at this site will connect to patients in rural areas. A mobile, cart-based telehealth system will be placed at each end-user site. Patients at these sites will be able to connect to a participating grant site or an external provider in a distant area to receive specialty care.

A recent report by the Rural Policy Research Institute's Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. A recent report from USDA's Economic Research Service, USDA ERS - Rural Residents Appear to be More Vulnerable to Serious Infection or Death From Coronavirus COVID-19, underscored the challenges facing rural Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with even greater detail. Due to a confluence of factors, including higher percentages of underlying conditions, lack of health insurance, and lower access to medical facilities/care than urban counterparts, ERS analysts found rural Americans are suffering more severe illness or death due to COVID-19.

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.

To learn more about investment resources for rural areas, interested parties should contact their USDA Rural Development state office.

In January, President Biden requested all parts of the federal government to contribute resources to contain the coronavirus pandemic. USDA is responding to the President's call to action. To date, more than 350 USDA personnel have deployed to assist with standing up vaccination sites, for example. In addition to personnel, USDA is offering its facilities, cold chain infrastructure, public health experts, disaster response specialists, and footprint in rural and Tribal communities across the country. USDA's commitment to control the pandemic extends to our own staff and facilities, with masking and physical distancing requirements across USDA, a commitment to provide PPE to our front-line workers, and working with states to prioritize vaccinations for our workforce. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/coronavirus. USDA also encourages people seeking health insurance to go to HealthCare.gov now through May 15th due to a special enrollment period. If you are recently uninsured due to a job loss or between jobs, find a plan at HealthCare.gov and keep it for as long as you need it.


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