A - Primarily intended to fund technology
The Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program is designed to provide access to education, training, and health care resources for rural Americans. The DLT program provides financial assistance to encourage and improve telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas through the use of telecommunications, computer networks, and related advanced technologies that students, teachers, medical professionals, and rural residents can use. Grants may be used to fund telecommunications-enabled information, audio and video equipment, and related advanced technologies which extend educational and medical applications into rural areas. Grants are intended to benefit end users in rural areas, who are often not in the same location as the source of the educational or health care service.
The DLT program is legislatively authorized to provide three kinds of financial assistance:
- 100% grant;
- Combination Loan-Grant; and
- 100% Loan
The DLT Grant Program is primarily focused on providing equipment that operates via telecommunications to rural end-users of telemedicine and distance learning. It is useful to keep in mind that while the equipment is eligible, it does not fund the telecommunications that connects that equipment. DLT does not fund communications links between sites (wireless or wire-line) and it does not fund telecommunications or Internet connections. Grants (and eligible matching funds) can be expended only for the costs associated with the initial capital assets associated with the project.
There are three categories of eligible purposes:
- Acquiring, by lease or purchase, eligible new or non-depreciated equipment. The application must demonstrate both that the predominant purpose (50% or more of use) of every line-item in the grant and match budget meets the DLT Grant definition of distance learning and/or telemedicine. Examples of eligible equipment include:
- Computer hardware and software (e.g. cybersecurity) in direct support of distance learning or telemedicine project activities
- Site licenses and maintenance contracts
- Extended warranties (up to 3 years)
- Audio and video equipment (including interactive audio/video equipment)
- Computer network components
- Telecommunications terminal equipment
- Data terminal equipment
- Inside wiring
- Broadband facilities (if owned by the applicant, limited to 20% of budget)
- Acquiring instructional programming that is a capital asset (including the purchase or lease of instructional programming already on the market). Renewals of instructional programming are not eligible nor is classroom equipment (such as laboratory equipment). Also, expenses (such as those for tuition, fees for coursework on a per course basis, or fees for cultural events or virtual field trips) are not capital assets and therefore, are not eligible.
- Providing technical assistance and instruction for using eligible equipment, including any related software; developing instructional programming that is a capital asset and providing engineering or environmental studies relating to the establishment or expansion of the phase of the project to be financed with the grant. The costs for this category cannot exceed 10% of the grant amount requested.
The following purposes are considered ineligible grant purposes:
- To pay for medical or educational equipment not having telemedicine or distance learning as its essential function; including telephone systems.
- To pay for Electronic Medical Records (EMS) systems.
- To pay salaries, wages, or employee benefits to medical or educational personnel;
- To pay for the salaries or administrative expenses of the applicant or the project;
- To purchase equipment that will be owned by the local exchange carrier or another telecommunications service provider unless that service provider is the applicant.
- To duplicate facilities providing distance learning or telemedicine services in place or to reimburse the applicant or others for costs incurred prior to RUS' receipt of the completed application;
- To pay costs of preparing the application package for financial assistance under this program;
- For projects whose sole objective is to provide links between teachers and students or between medical professionals who are located at the same facility or campus environment;
- For site development and the destruction or alteration of buildings;
- For the purchase of land, buildings, or building construction;
- For projects located in areas covered by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act;
- For any purpose that the Administrator has not specifically approved;
- To pay the cost of recurring or operating expenses for the project including but not limited to internet connection fees
Further, grant funds shall not be used to finance a project, in part, when the success of the project is dependent upon the receipt of additional financial assistance under DLT or is dependent upon the receipt of other financial assistance that is not assured.
Because this program is intended to fund end-user equipment at specifically identified sites, applications which propose to provide only web-based services which are universally available are ineligible. This type of project does not have a defined service area and the beneficiaries can be located anywhere, including urban areas.
History of Funding
2016 awards can be seen at https://www.rd.usda.gov/files/DLT_2016_Awards.pdf.
2017 awards can be seen at https://www.rd.usda.gov/files/DLT_Awardees_2017.pdf.
2018 awards can be seen at https://www.rd.usda.gov/files/DLT_Awards_2018.pdf
2019 awards can be seen at https://www.rd.usda.gov/files/USDARD_DLT_CHART112019.pdf.
2020 awards can be seen at https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/USDARD_DLT_CHART10072020.pdf
2021 awards can be seen at https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usdard_dltchart10_22_2021.pdf
Fiscal Year 2022 Community Project (Earmark) funding goes to Illini Community Hospital (IL), Ben Archer Health Center (NM), New Mexico State Library (NM), Vermont Program for Quality Health Care (VT), West Virginia University (WV), Shepherd University (WV), and Pocahontas County Board of Education (WV).
An interactive map of DLT grant recipients can be found at https://ruraldevelopment.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=15a73830555645ae93d2fa773ed8e971.
The DLT Grant Program is a competitive program. Applications are scored in objective and subjective categories.
- Objective Criteria: statistical in nature and evaluated by comparing statistics on numerical data.
- Rural Area (Rurality)
- Economic Need (SAIPE)
- Special Consideration (points will be awarded for projects in one of three areas, applicants may not receive special consideration points in more than one)
- Subjective Criteria: rendered by a judgment, an informed opinion based on various factors, including experience, knowledge and statistical comparisons
- Need for Services and Project Benefits
Rural Development Key Priorities: The Agency encourages applicants to consider projects that will advance the following key priorities (more details available at https://www.rd.usda.gov/?priority-points):
- Assisting rural communities recover economically through more and better market opportunities and through improved infrastructure.
- Ensuring all rural residents have equitable access to RD programs and benefits from RD funded projects; and
- Reducing climate pollution and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change through economic support to rural communities.
Special Consideration Points will be awarded if the proposal addresses either of the following:
- Projects that serve Tribal Lands, Farmworker Communities, or Distressed Energy Communities. Projects that enable and improve distance learning and telemedicine services on Tribal Lands are eligible for 10 points. Non-Tribal applicants must submit a letter of Tribal consent consistent with Section C.2 if services are being proposed on Tribal Lands. from the Tribe(s) with whom they propose to partner. If the applicant proposes to partner with more than one Tribe, consent from each Tribe is required. If consent is not provided, the project will be deemed ineligible. Projects that enable and improve distance learning and telemedicine services to Farmworker Communities in rural areas are eligible for 10 points. The key to the success of the food and agriculture industries is the millions of workers that power it. Farmworkers include agricultural workers, field crop workers, nursery workers, livestock workers, graders and sorters. Applicants seeking these points should describe the type of farm work that is prevalent in the community they intend to serve and how many farmworkers will be served by the project. Projects that enable and improve distance learning and telemedicine services to Distressed Energy Communities in rural areas are eligible for 10 points.
- Projects that support Native American Language(s). Language helps people engage meaningfully with one another, share knowledge, worldviews, cultural expressions, beliefs, traditions, and hope for the future—from generation to generation. Yet, many indigenous languages across the world are in danger of falling into disuse. It is the policy of the United States to preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native languages. Projects that use distance learning to protect, revitalize, and promote the use of Native languages are eligible for 10 points. For this criterion, USDA will look to the Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 which defines Native American Language as the historical, traditional languages spoken by Native Americans, including the languages spoken by Native Hawaiian and Native American Pacific Islander Peoples. To receive these points, an applicant must indicate the Native American Language(s) that will be supported by the project, list the qualifications of the instructor(s) to teach that language, and include the number of students that will be served by the project.
- Projects that support Mental Health Services. Rural communities have fewer mental health facilities and less access to mental health services and professionals. The lack of this vital infrastructure puts low-income residents, veterans, and young people in rural communities at risk, with the suicide rate growing at a faster pace among rural youth. Projects that enable and improve telemedicine services to support mental health services in rural communities are eligible for 10 points. The executive summary and the needs and benefits section of the application must demonstrate that supporting mental health services is a primary purpose of the application.
To be eligible for a grant, your organization must:
- Be legally organized as an incorporated organization or partnership; an Indian tribe or tribal organization; a state or local unit of government; a consortium; or other legal entity, including a private corporation organized on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis. Each applicant must provide written evidence of its legal capacity to contract with the Rural Utilities Service to obtain the grant and comply with all applicable requirements.
- Either operate a rural community facility, or deliver distance learning or telemedicine services to entities that operate a rural community facility or to residents of rural areas at rates calculated to ensure that the benefit of the financial assistance is passed through to such entities or to residents of rural areas.
Equipment vendors, system integrators, and other businesses whose purpose in the proposal is to sell equipment or technological services to support applicants cannot themselves be applicants.
Additional Eligibility Criteria: Minimum Rurality Score - In order to be eligible to receive a grant, an application must receive a minimum of 20 points as an average score for all end user sites included in the project. For end user sites to receive a score, the must not be classified as "urban". An urban area is any area of the USA included within the boundaries of any incorporated or unincorporated city, village, or borough having a population in excess of 20,000 inhabitants or part of an urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to a city or town having a population in excess of 50,000 inhabitants.
The application window for FY23 is from December 1, 2022, through January 30, 2023. A similar window is anticipated annually.
Approximately $64 million is available for awards in FY23. Of that total, $12 million is intended for telemedicine projects that provide substance use disorder treatment services in rural areas. The remaining $52 million is available for all eligible projects.
Individual awards range between $50,000 and $1,000,000 each. Projects last up to 3 years.
The DLT program requires applicants to provide match funds that total 15% of the grant request. Matching contributions generally must be in the form of cash. However, in-kind contributions used solely for DLT eligible purposes may also be considered. Federal funds are not eligible as matching funds, unless specifically authorized otherwise by Federal statute. E-rate funds are federal funds and cannot be applied as matching funds to a DLT project.
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