USDA Announces Over $770 Million for Rural Infrastructure

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced the launch of the fifth round of the ReConnect Program.

USDA Announces Over $770 Million for Rural Infrastructure
Photo of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

February 21, 2024 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a $772.6 million investment Wednesday to fund 216 projects in 45 states, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Mariana Islands which will enhance rural broadband connectivity and digital skills, ensure access to clean water, and bolster economic growth in underserved communities.

 A sum of $51.7 million is coming from the USDA’s Reconnect Program. The program offers both loans and grants to help cooperatives, telecommunications companies, and local governments cover the costs associated with deploying high-speed internet networks in underserved communities.

Notable projects include initiatives led by Merit Network in Michigan, receiving $997,000 to develop a connectivity and digital equity strategy across eight communities. Additionally, HarvestBeam, a broadband provider founded by local agricultural producers, regional economic development leaders, and rural broadband advocates in eastern North Carolina is receiving $199,000 to expand high-speed internet in 13 underserved regions.

Under the Broadband Technical Assistance Program, USDA is providing $9.7 million to help 24 organizations deliver or receive technical assistance to expand digital skills and comprehension for residents in rural and Tribal communities across 17 states.

During the visit to Edgecombe, North Carolina, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced the launch of the fifth round of the ReConnect Program. Vilsack said the USDA is making several program improvements in preparation. The USDA will begin accepting applications on March 22 for the fifth round of funding, according to the notice of funding opportunity.

Funding for clean drinking water and economic development

Many of the projects announced Wednesday were made possible through investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. 

The majority of the $772.6 million announcement, $644.2 million, will be directed toward enhancing rural drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, benefiting approximately 913,000 people. These investments are made through the USDA’s Solid Waste Management Grants Program and the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program.

In addition, a $76.6 million investment under the Rural Partners Network is poised to create jobs, enhance healthcare access, and promote renewable energy adoption. 

The initiatives aimed at modernizing essential amenities for the development of rural areas will impact more than one million individuals residing in remote regions of the United States, part of President Joe Biden's Investing in America agenda.

The announcement comes on the heels of previous initiatives such as the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant, which equipped telemedicine stations throughout Edgecombe County.

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