Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Request for Information (RFI): Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through Government

CMS is seeking comments in response to a Request for Information (RFI) titled “Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through Government.” Comments are due no later than July 6, 2021, and can be submitted on the Federal Register’s website linked here:

From the Summary of the RFI:

Recent Executive Orders have charged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in partnership with the heads of agencies, to identify, by July 2021, effective methods for assessing whether agency policies and actions (e.g., programs, services, processes, and operations) equitably serve all eligible individuals and communities, particularly those that are currently and historically underserved. As part of this effort, agencies are directed to consult with members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the Federal Government and underserved by, or subject to discrimination in, Federal policies and programs, and to evaluate opportunities, as allowable, to increase coordination, communication, and engagement with community-based and civil rights organizations. Through this request for information (RFI), OMB seeks input, information, and recommendations from a broad array of stakeholders in the public, private, advocacy, not-for-profit, and philanthropic sectors, including State, local, Tribal, and territorial areas, on available methods, approaches, and tools that could assist in this effort. OMB will consider the usability, applicability, and rigor of submissions in response to this RFI as OMB gathers resources to support agencies as they conduct internal assessments on the state of equity in their policies, programs, services, processes, and operations. OMB will also use what it learns from responses to this RFI as OMB works to expand use of equity-assessment methods and approaches across the Federal Government, as agencies develop agency Equity Action Plans (due to the Domestic Policy Council by January 19, 2022) outlining steps they will take to address identified gaps in equity.

You can also access the RFI in its entirety here:

INSPIRE-ing Recovery in Appalachia: How to Get Started

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is accepting applications for a second round of INvestments Supporting Partnerships In Recovery Ecosystems (INSPIRE) Initiative grants, which will award up to $10 million to projects addressing the substance abuse crisis by creating or expanding a recovery ecosystem that will lead to workforce entry or re-entry. Interested in applying for an INSPIRE Initiative grant but unsure how to get started? This week, a panel of ARC experts participated in a Q&A webinar to answer questions from prospective applicants. Here are some key takeaways:

Q: What entities are eligible to apply? 

A: Eligible applicants for ARC’s INSPIRE Initiative grants are the following: local development districts (LDDs); Indian tribes; states, counties, cities, or other political subdivision of a state; institutions of higher education; and public or private nonprofit organizations or associations.

Q: What is match and how is it determined? 

A: Applicants must demonstrate a match from non-ARC sources that is both accessible and available to the project. Matching sources may be non-federal, other federal, or a combination of sources. The maximum share of ARC assistance is determined by the ARC classification of the county or counties served by the proposed activity.

Q: How do I apply? 

A: Visit – look for the “How to Apply” section for more detailed instructions. You will be directed to an application portal which will require you enter key data and upload two attachments, one is what we call the Application and the other Executive Summary. Before you apply, make sure to submit a Letter of Intent by May 17, 2021 5 pm ET. The final application deadline is June 18, 2021.

Check out our Q&A Session and other INSPIRE 2021 workshop recordings.

Gayle Conelly Manchin Sworn in as Thirteenth ARC Federal Co-Chair

Gayle Conelly Manchin was sworn in as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) thirteenth federal co-chair, becoming the first ARC federal co-chair from West Virginia. Nominated by President Biden, Manchin will work directly with ARC’s 13 member governors, their state alternates and program managers, and a network of local development districts to continue to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth throughout Appalachia.

“I’m honored to serve our beloved Appalachian Region and its people as ARC federal co-chair,” said Manchin. “While we’ve come a long way over the years, more work needs to be done to strengthen our Region and seize opportunities to address economic disparities and advance prosperity.”

Manchin’s top priorities as ARC federal co-chair will be to support the creation of economic opportunities in the Appalachian Region, improve broadband access and critical infrastructure in Appalachian communities, and address the Region’s opioid crisis.

Read Federal Co-Chair Gayle Conelly Manchin’s bio.

Report Details Economic Impact of Agriculture in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, working with TeamPA and Econsult, has produced the second study detailing the economic impact of agriculture in Pennsylvania.  Results show that agriculture contributes $132.5B to the state’s economy and remains a top industry, ranging from farm production to processing to feeding our families.

The report can be accessed at TeamPA_Agriculture2020EISUpdate_FINAL

USDA Seeks Applications for Grants to Offset High Energy Costs in Rural Areas

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Justin Maxson today announced that USDA is seeking applications for grants to offset high energy costs in rural areas.

USDA is making the funding available through the High Energy Cost Grant program. This program helps state and local governments and nonprofit agencies acquire, construct, extend, upgrade, or otherwise improve energy generation, transmission or distribution facilities. Grants may also be used to install on-grid and off-grid renewable energy systems and to make energy efficiency improvements.

Eligible projects must be in communities where the average residential home energy expenditure is at least 275 percent of the national average. USDA expects to award up to $10 million for Fiscal Year 2021.

Paper applications must be postmarked and mailed, shipped or sent overnight no later than July 6, 2021.

Electronic applications must be submitted to by midnight Eastern Standard Time on July 6, 2021.

COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Helpline in Pennsylvania for People with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has announced a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid Pharmacy to ease access to COVID-19 vaccinations for people with intellectual disabilities and autism. Beginning May 4, people with an intellectual disability, autism, and their caregivers will be able to call a hotline managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) to request a COVID-19 vaccine, and callers will receive direct outreach from a nearby Rite Aid Pharmacy to schedule their vaccine appointment.

People with an intellectual disability or autism and their caregivers can call ODP Vaccination Call Center at 1-800-424-4345 to request a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for themselves and/or their caregivers. This hotline is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. From there, ODP will give Rite Aid names and locations of individuals who need to be vaccinated. Rite Aid staff will assign local pharmacies to reach out to callers to schedule vaccinations at a Rite Aid location near to the caller. This effort will also be able to help coordinate special accommodations for individuals who need assistance with transportation or on-site aid, among other needs.

Anyone age 16 or older with an intellectual disability or autism and their caregivers can request a vaccine appointment through this effort, regardless of whether they are currently enrolled in a services and supports program through ODP. ODP oversees services and supports for approximately 57,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across Pennsylvania but estimates that this only covers about 25 percent of Pennsylvanians who may qualify as having an intellectual or developmental disability. ODP is working with Pennsylvania’s Developmental Disabilities Council, Temple University’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the Special Olympics, and Aging and Disability Resource Centers to help people with disabilities and their caregivers know about this option and assist with accommodations.

“As we continue to work to ensure that all Pennsylvanians who want a vaccine are able to get them, this collaborative approach between ODP and Rite Aid will allow us to ease this process for people with intellectual disabilities and autism and help us keep them and their caregivers safe moving forward,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “Rite Aid has been an incredible partner in helping us reach vulnerable people in our licensed facilities and community settings, and I am incredibly grateful for their continued work to ensure that we are getting these life-saving vaccines out efficiently and equitably.”

Since December 2020, more than 8 million Pennsylvanians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 3.2 million Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccine providers in your community, visit the Department of Health’s website.   

Get more information about vaccines administered to DHS-licensed facilities through the work with Rite Aid and other vaccine providers.

HHS Announces Nearly $1 Billion from American Rescue Plan for Rural COVID-19 Response

Funding Will Help Communities, Hospitals, Health Clinics Respond to the Pandemic and Support Local Efforts to Increase Vaccine Confidence and Uptake in Rural Communities

Today, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is announcing the availability of nearly $1 billion to strengthen COVID-19 response efforts and increase vaccinations in rural communities. As part of the Biden Administration’s commitment to expanding access to vaccines and ensuring equity in the COVID-19 response, the Health Resources and Services Administration, a part of HHS, will increase the number of vaccines sent to rural communities, expand testing and other COVID-19 prevention services, and work to increase vaccine confidence by empowering trusted local voices with additional funding for outreach efforts in underserved communities.

“Rural health providers are vital to ensure equity in COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and in making sure rural residents have the information about vaccine safety, especially for populations who are at an increased risk for COVID-19 infection or severe illness due to systemic health and social inequities and geographic isolation,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Support to Rural Health Clinics and small rural hospitals for COVID-19 testing, strengthening vaccine allocation and confidence, and vaccine outreach will help rural residents make informed health decisions about COVID-19 to protect themselves and their communities.”

HRSA’s Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program will provide $460 million to more than 4,600 rural health clinics (RHCs) across the country. RHCs will use the funds to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in ways tailored to their local communities. RHCs are a special certification given to health care practices in underserved rural areas by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to help ensure access to care for rural residents. HRSA will provide up to $100,000 per RHC-certified clinic site and will issue the funds this summer.

To further support COVID-19 testing in rural areas, HRSA will provide $398 million to existing grantees of the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) to work with approximately 1,730 small rural hospitals – those with fewer than 50 beds – and Critical Access Hospitals on COVID-19 testing and mitigation. SHIP state grantees will use the funding to support all eligible rural hospitals, up to $230,000 per hospital, and will issue the funds later in the year.

“Addressing the health care challenges rural areas face requires a targeted approach that’s tailored to the needs of local communities,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa. “This critical funding strengthens our ability to deliver on President Biden’s commitment to ensure that the nation’s underserved communities and those who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 get the help they need.”

HRSA will also support RHCs to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in rural communities and expand outreach to build vaccine confidence. Working in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HRSA is inviting Medicare-certified RHCs to join the new Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution (RHCVD) Program to directly receive vaccines from the Biden Administration. HRSA and CDC will continue to enroll interested RHCs to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the allocation for which is separate from jurisdictions’ weekly allocations.

In addition, through the Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence (RHCVC) Program, HRSA will make nearly $100 million available in grants to eligible RHCs nationwide to address health equity gaps by offering support and resources to medically underserved rural communities where COVID-19 vaccine uptake lags in comparison to more populated areas. HRSA will fund all eligible RHCs that apply. The RHCVC Program is the first targeted RHC grant since the passage of the Rural Health Clinic Service Act in 1977.

RHCs will be able to use the funds to increase vaccine confidence, improve health care in rural areas, and reinforce key messages about prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Implementation efforts in rural communities will include disseminating information to rural residents about how and where to get vaccinated, and coordinating with existing vaccination sites and public health partners to identify strategies to increase vaccine confidence among key populations. RHCs may also use funding to promote vaccination and bolster patient literacy in rural areas on the benefits of broad vaccination and vaccine safety in support of continued efforts to return to a more normal lifestyle.

For more information about HRSA’s rural programs, visit the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy website:

To learn more about HRSA’s allocation to Rural Health Clinics for COVID-19 testing visit:

To learn more about the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP), visit

New HHS Reimbursement for Underinsured COVID Vaccinations

On May 3, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced a new program covering costs of administering COVID-19 vaccines to patients enrolled in health plans that either do not cover vaccination fees or cover them with patient cost-sharing. Since providers cannot bill patients for COVID-19 vaccination fees, this new program, the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund (CAF), addresses an outstanding compensation need for providers on the front lines vaccinating underinsured patients.

Click here for the Press Release and Fact Sheet of the CAF.

Pennsylvania Administration to Lift Mitigation Orders on Memorial Day, Masking Order Once 70% of Pennsylvania Adults Fully Vaccinated 

Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older who want a vaccine are urged to get one 

Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s administration, in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, announced on May 4, 2021 that mitigation orders except masking will be lifted on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31 at 12:01 AM.

The current order requiring Pennsylvanians to wear masks will be lifted when 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Face coverings are required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home. In accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians are not required to wear a mask during certain activities.

“We continue to make significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts,” ​Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam said. “I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing.”

Requirements such as testing and reporting ​new cases will remain in place for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Maintaining requirements for hospitals and long-term care facilities wi​ll allow Pennsylvania to continue to closely monitor COVID-19 spread while lifting other restrictions.

The Department of Health recommends that Pennsylvanians refer to CDC guidance and recommendations regarding ongoing COVID-19 safety measures and procedures.

These updates will not prevent municipalities and school districts from ​continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts.

“With millions of Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated, it’s time to plan the transition back to normal,” said Sen. Art Haywood. Hospitalizations and deaths are down. This action today is a key step forward.”

“While the restrictions that were put in place at the outset of the pandemic have been a major source of frustration for many Pennsylvanians and businesses, it is the collaborative work of this bipartisan Task Force that is allowing us to finally roll back the restrictions and get back to normal life,” said Sen. Ryan Aument.

“I’m thrilled after more than a year that we are able to lift these restrictions so that we can move to more normal life,” said Rep. Tim O’Neal. “This will help grow our economy and assist our small businesses that have sacrificed so much due to COVID-19. Thank you to Pennsylvanians who have chosen to be vaccinated. Your efforts have helped us arrive at today.”

“I am proud of the progress we have made with vaccinations throughout Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski. “Lifting mitigation orders on Memorial Day and announcing that masking orders will be lifted once 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s adults are fully vaccinated are all benefits from following the scientific medical research and data. Many sacrifices had been made over the past year while we waited for help. The help is now here in the form of a vaccine and we must do everything we can to encourage everyone to receive their vaccination so we can overcome this pandemic. Let’s follow the science, because it’s the path to us all returning to normalcy.”

The governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic remains in place.

All Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine. The provider map is available on the Department of Health’s website. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.

More information is available on the COVID-19 Data Dashboard.