Pence Leads Letter Urging Support for America's Rural Communities

November 5, 2019
Press Release
Bipartisan Effort Would Support Farmers, Help Combat Opioid Crisis in Rural Communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Greg Pence (R-IN-06) led 32 of his House colleagues in urging the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies to support the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program.

In June, Pence successfully offered an amendment to ensure communities across the 6th District, and rural America, have the support they need to increase access to broadband technology. The amendment passed in the House by a vote of 425 to 6, indicating broad, bipartisan support. The amendment increases funding for rural broadband programs, ensuring more communities have access to innovative health care, educational, government services, and business opportunities.

“This critical program helps Americans tap into tele-health technology, distance learning education, and internet-based agribusiness that farmers in rural America rely on to remain competitive…” wrote Congressman Pence. “Without access to broadband, entire communities are being left behind.”

The full letter is below:

Dear Chairman Hoeven, Chairman Bishop, Ranking Member Merkley, and Ranking Member Fortenberry,

As the House and Senate continue to work on the Fiscal Year 2020 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, I respectfully request your support for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program.

Access to a viable broadband connection impacts nearly every rural community in the nation. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities leverage the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect with each other and people around the world. This critical program helps Americans tap into tele-health technology, distance learning education, and internet-based agribusiness that farmers in rural America rely on to remain competitive.

As you know, the 2018 Farm Bill authorized $350 million for Rural Broadband Access Loans and Grants, including $82 million for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program. We are pleased that the House-passed funding bill, H.R. 3055, adopted an amendment to increased funding for this program from $50,000,000 to $75,000,000. Unfortunately, the Senate language only provides $34,000,000 for this broadband program.

You may be interested to know that last year, USDA received a total of 181 applications for this grant program, with a total funding request of over $58,000,000 million. In Fiscal Year 2019, 43% of funds from the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program were used to combat the opioid epidemic. With the ongoing opioid crisis hurting communities across America, now is not the time to cut corners when it comes to programs that address substance abuse.

As you can see, adoption of the Senate funding level would dramatically reduce the USDA’s ability to administer both types of DLT grants – those aimed at extending quality education to address learning disparities across the country as well as those with the primary mission of addressing the opioid epidemic in rural America. Without access to broadband, entire communities are being left behind.

On behalf of rural communities across our nation, I thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

Sincerely,

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Congressman Greg Pence represents Indiana’s 6th District. From Columbus, Indiana, Pence advocates for conservative Hoosier values as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.