USDA Launches High-Speed Broadband e-Connectivity Resource Guide

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2019 – Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new toolkit to help support the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities.

“High-speed broadband e-Connectivity is becoming more and more essential to doing business, delivering health care, and, for schoolchildren, doing homework in rural communities,” Hazlett said. “This user-friendly tool will help rural customers find the many resources USDA has available to support the expansion and use of e-Connectivity in rural America.”

The e-Connectivity Toolkit (PDF, 4.3 MB) features 27 USDA programs that support broadband deployment. The easy-to-use resource is a simple guide that allows customers to identify their type of e-Connectivity project and locate resources the federal government offers for planning, equipment, construction, research and other e-Connectivity projects. Resources such as grants, loans and technical assistance are available from multiple Mission Areas at USDA, including Rural Development, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Forest Service.

The toolkit highlights examples of how e-Connectivity resources are being used to increase access to broadband services in rural communities. It is free and available to the public online, and can be easily printed for offline use.

USDA’s launch of the e-Connectivity Toolkit closely follows Secretary Sonny Perdue’s unveiling of the ReConnect Program, a pilot program authorized by the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018, to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that lack sufficient access to broadband.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.

To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

The Journal of Appalachian Health Launches Today

F. Douglas Scutchfield, Editor,

The Editorial Staff, and the Editorial and Advisory Boards

Invite you to participate in the launch of the

Journal of Appalachian Health.

The Journal of Appalachian Health is now open for both readers and authors. The journal is an online, open access, peer-reviewed journal with a mission of creating a healthy and thriving Appalachia. The journal, thanks to the support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will require no subscription fee or author publication fee.

The journal is particularly interested in receiving submissions that focus on Appalachian health inequities and social determinants of health. If you are interested in submitting articles for publication in the journal, the instructions for authors and further description of the journal are located at:

https://uknowledge.uky.edu/jah/

If you are interested in receiving your free copy of the journal, either go to the journal website https://uknowledge.uky.edu/jah/ to sign up for your free journal or send an email to

AppalachHealth@UKy.edu

to be put on our journal mailing list.

We thank you and appreciate your interest and commitment to improving the health of the Appalachian Region.

USDA Extends Deadlines for ReConnect Rural Broadband Program

WASHINGTON, February 6, 2019 – Acting Administrator for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Bette Brand announced today USDA would extend application deadlines for the Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect Program).

To give potential applicants adequate time to access technical assistance from USDA staff and its partners, the first application deadline will be pushed back to May 31, 2019 or later. Previously, application deadlines began in April. New specific deadlines for ReConnect Program grants, loans, and grant-loan combination applications will be posted in the Federal Register in late February.

“We’ve seen such strong interest in ReConnect from rural telecommunications providers and utility cooperatives, that we want to be sure there’s enough time for them to put solid applications together for these innovative funding opportunities,” said Bette Brand. “The USDA team stands ready to assist with engineering and business plans, to be sure these new Federal funds are as impactful as possible.”

As one part of that technical assistance, USDA is hosting a webinar with general information about the ReConnect program and guidance from experts for potential applicants. This webinar is open to the public and interested parties, and will be offered at 2:00 pm Eastern Time on both Thursday, February 7 and Wednesday, February 13, 2019.

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On December 13, Agriculture Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect”, including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.

Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities may apply for funding through USDA’s new ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. Through the ReConnect Program, USDA is making available approximately $200 million for grants, as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations, and $200 million for low-interest loans. Funds will be awarded to projects that have a financially-sustainable business models that will bring high-speed broadband to rural homes, businesses, farms, ranches, and community facilities such as first responders, healthcare sites, and schools.

More information about the ReConnect program may be found at http://reconnect.usda.gov.

CMS Announces New Strategies for Medicare Beneficiaries to Combat Opioid Use Disorder

Effective January 1, 2019, CMS announced new strategies to further help Medicare Part D sponsors prevent and combat opioid overuse including additional safety alerts at the time of dispensing as a proactive step to engage both patients and prescribers about overdose risk and prevention.  The new policies include (1) improved safety edits when opioid prescriptions are dispensed at the pharmacy and (2) drug management programs for patients determined to be at-risk for misuse or abuse of opioids or other frequently abused drugs.

CMS has posted tip sheets and other resources to help increase awareness of the new policies among stakeholders. Three sets of outreach materials designed for physician, pharmacist, and beneficiary audiences are available on the CMS website for download. Materials can be found at: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Prescription-Drug-coverage/PrescriptionDrugCovContra/RxUtilization.html

Responding to Unsheltered Homelessness

In any community, developing a coordinated strategy to address unsheltered homelessness is challenging. Community Supportive Housing (CSH) now offers guidance that can help ensure better outcomes. Learn about their new Community Response Resources: Tools, Policies & Templates for Addressing Unsheltered HomelessnessThese tools will assist you in identifying and leveraging local champions and strategies to tackle issues that may arise during the development and implementation of an outreach and engagement system.

Updated Security Risk Assessment Tool Available to Download

In October 2018, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in collaboration with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), released an updated, downloadable Security Risk Assessment (SRA) tool. This updated SRA tool is easier to use and applies more broadly to the risks of confidentiality, integrity, and availability of health information. The tool is designed to help healthcare providers conduct an SRA as required by the HIPAA Security Rule and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program. The tool diagrams HIPAA Security Rule safeguards and provides enhanced functionality to document how your organization implements safeguards to mitigate, or plans to mitigate, identified risks. The new SRA tool is available for Windows computers and laptops. However, the previous iPad version of the SRA tool is still available from the Apple App Store (search under “HHS SRA Tool”). Go to the HealthIT.gov website to download the updated SRA tool.

NEW Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Referral Tool

Pennsylvania residents now have access to the Drug and Alcohol Referral Tool (DART), an online resource to help individuals seeking substance use disorder (SUD) treatment find appropriate, local care. This tool is fully anonymous, user friendly and can be translated into over 100 languages. DART is a centralized hub that will ask a series of questions based on a person’s age, county of residence and veteran status to assess appropriate needs and locate care. The tool will also provide potential resources that consider issues of homelessness, transportation and legal concerns. “Substance use disorders often occur when a person experiences other medical and behavioral health concerns, and they may need additional resources to live a stable, healthy life in recovery,” said Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “Connecting people seeking treatment to comprehensive services that can help meet all of their needs from the start is critical as they work towards recovery.”

Surgeon General releases advisory on E-cigarette epidemic among youth

Surgeon General releases advisory on E-cigarette epidemic among youth

Urges parents, teachers and health professionals to protect children from nicotine addiction

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams issued an advisory today stressing the importance of protecting children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and associated health risks by immediately addressing the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.

E-cigarette use among youth has skyrocketed in the past year at a rate of epidemic proportions. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school-age children reporting past 30-day use of e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent between 2017 and 2018. Use among middle school-age children also increased nearly 50 percent.

Data from National Institutes of Health’s Monitoring the Future survey also shows that America’s teens reported a dramatic increase in their use of e-cigarettes in just a single year, with 37.3 percent of 12th graders reporting use in the past 12 months, compared to 27.8 percent in 2017.

“We need to protect our kids from all tobacco products, including all shapes and sizes of e-cigarettes,” said Adams. “Everyone can play an important role in protecting our nation’s young people from the risks of e-cigarettes.”

The surge in e-cigarette use among our nation’s youth has been fueled by newer cartridge-based devices that have become increasingly popular. Many of these e-cigarettes look like a USB flash drive, making them easy to conceal. One of the most commonly sold versions is JUUL, which now has more than a 70 percent share of the cartridge-based e-cigarette market in the United States. A typical JUUL cartridge, or “pod,” contains about as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.

“In the data sets we use, we have never seen use of any substance by America’s young people rise as rapidly as e-cigarette use is rising,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Combustible cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and providing an effective off-ramp for adults who want to quit using them is a public health priority. But we cannot allow e-cigarettes to become an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for younger Americans. HHS has been and will continue developing a comprehensive, balanced policy approach to this challenge.”

As noted in the 2016 Surgeon General’s report on E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults, e-cigarette use poses a significant – and avoidable – health risk to young people. Besides increasing the possibility of addiction and long-term harm to brain development and respiratory health, e-cigarette use may also lead to the use of regular cigarettes that can do even more damage to the body.

“We have evidence-based strategies to prevent tobacco use that can be applied to e-cigarettes.” said Adams. “We must take action now to protect the health of our nation’s young people.”

For facts about the risk of e-cigarettes, and how to protect our youth, visit:

e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov.

Internet Subscription in Rural Counties Low

Internet Subscription in Rural Counties Low.  In its recent release of American Community Survey (ACS) data, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that “nationally, 78 percent of households subscribe to the internet, but households in both rural and lower-income counties trail the national average by 13 points.” The ACS is a survey of American life, taken every five years to track trends on more than 40 social, economic, housing and demographic topics in every U.S. county.  Low internet subscription rates in rural areas hinder adoption of telehealth, which could improve quality of care while reducing cost.