Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Low Birth Rates May Not Be a Deciding Factor for Rural Populations

Although the U.S. saw its lowest birth rate in 50 years in 2020, that may not necessarily mean a dramatic decline in rural populations.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3.6 million babies were born last year in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas, the study said, a decline of four percent over 2019. It’s the sixth year in a row that birth rates have declined.

That puts the U.S. total fertility rate, an estimate of how many babies a group of 1,000 women would have during their lifetime, at “below replacement” levels.

Read more.

Number of New Covid-19 Infections Drops for Fifth Consecutive Week

The rate of new Covid-19 infections in rural America fell for the fifth consecutive week last week, dropping to its lowest level since June 2020. Meanwhile, the number of Covid-related deaths increased slightly last week.

The number of new infections reported in rural counties fell 18%, from 31,683 two weeks ago to 25,876 last week. New infections in rural counties have decreased for nine out of the last 12 weeks and are down about 90% from their peak in mid-January.

Covid-related deaths grew about 10% last week, from 613 two weeks ago to 681 last week. Despite the increase last week, Covid-related deaths in rural counties have also fallen nine out of the last 12 weeks and have declined by 85% since their peak in early 2021.

Read more.

Pennsylvania Oral Health Coalition PCOH Recognized as State Rural Health Program of the Year

The Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health recently released the 2021 spring issue of the Pennsylvania Rural Health magazine. This issue highlights the 2020 Rural Health Awards. PCOH is recognized as the State Rural Health Program of the Year. Other topics in this issue include health equity in rural Pennsylvania A, transforming health care in rural areas, and more.

Click here to read the issue.

New ADA Open Access Journal

The American Dental Association is introducing a new cross-disciplinary and open access journal, JADA Foundational Science. This new journal bridges basic and clinic sciences in oral health research. Submissions are now being accepted for research on foundational science and more topics.

Click here to learn more.

New Research Brief: School-Based Oral Health Programs Impacts of COVID-19

The Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) and the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health have released a new research brief, “Challenges in Implementing School-Based Oral Health Programs: Short and Long Term Impacts of COVID-19.” The brief includes challenges faced by programs due to COVID-19, challenges anticipated in the coming years, and additional support.

Click here to read the brief.

In Pennsylvania, $5 Million Available to Expand Broadband in Unserved and Underserved Communities 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that $5 million is available for projects that expand high-speed broadband service infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas through the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program (UHSB). The application period opens June 1.

“Pennsylvania’s broadband internet access limitations create an unfair playing field, leaving too many counties disadvantaged in the state’s digital divide,” said Gov. Wolf. “The challenging last year only magnified how critical the need for this access is for everyone—for school, for work, and for leisure—and this program marks an important step in the commonwealth’s continued efforts to close that digital divide.”

The UHSB authorizes the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) to award grants to nongovernmental entities which have the technical, managerial, and financial expertise to design, build, and operate a high-speed broadband service infrastructure in unserved areas.

Applications will be accepted from June 1 through September 24, 2021.

UHSB funding supports projects that can offer access to high-speed broadband services that will enhance economic development, education, health care, and emergency services. The program will further expand broadband access through new private sector investments.

The CFA was established in 2004 as an independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to administer Pennsylvania’s economic stimulus packages. The CFA holds fiduciary responsibility over the funding of programs and investments in Pennsylvania’s economic growth. Unique among state agencies in structure and scope, the CFA consists of seven Board members: four legislative appointees and the secretaries of DCED, the Office of the Budget, and Department of Banking and Securities.

USDA Kicks Off Debt Relief Program for Minority Farmers

USDA’s Farm Service Agency released the first notice of funding availability announcing loan payments for eligible borrowers with qualifying direct farm loans. The notice will be published in the Federal Register early next week.

“A subsequent notice addressing guaranteed loan balances and direct loans that no longer have collateral and have been previously referred to the Department of Treasury for debt collection for offset, will be published within 120 days,” the department said.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan enacted in March required USDA to make payments worth 120% of the qualifying farmers’ indebtedness and included $4 billion for that purpose. The payments are intended to both pay off the loans and to cover the related taxes and fees.

The payments will be broken into two steps, USDA said, including a 20% direct deposit for taxes and fees, and then loan payment from Treasury to USDA to clear the debt.

“The American Rescue Plan has made it possible for USDA to deliver historic debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers beginning in June,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “USDA is recommitting itself to gaining the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers using a new set of tools provided in the American Rescue Plan to increase opportunity, advance equity and address systemic discrimination in USDA programs.”

Under the law, Black, Latino or Hispanic, Native American or Alaskan Native, and Asian American or Pacific Islander producers are eligible for the payments. About 85% of the approximately 16,000 qualifying loans affected are direct loans.

More information is available at

Pennsylvania Improves Access to Pennsylvania Senior Food Box Program, Encourages Enrollment

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Aging Secretary Robert Torres announced steps to increase access to Pennsylvania’s Senior Food Boxes, a supplemental food program available free to lower income seniors. Giving the program a new name and removing proof of income requirements are among the barriers to participation the state is removing, with the goal of encouraging seniors to take advantage of the program.

Formally known as Commodity Supplemental Food Program, the program previously required seniors to provide documented proof of their income when they applied to receive a food box. The new procedure requires only a statement of income.

“We want to take hunger off the table for Pennsylvania’s seniors. They shouldn’t be worrying about whether to eat or pay for utilities and prescriptions,” said Redding. “They’ve supported their families or communities for a lifetime, and we want to support them now.

“This is why we’ve removed income verification as a requirement for the Senior Food Box, we want it to be as easy as possible to receive. So now, just indicate on the application form that you are eligible for help and you’ll receive it,” added Redding.

The Pennsylvania Senior Food Box is a product of the federally funded Commodity Supplemental Food Program. It works to improve the health of low-income seniors by providing a supplement to groceries of a variety of nutritious, shelf-stable products including shelf-stable fluid milk, juice, ready-to-eat cereal, rice, pasta, dry beans, peanut butter, canned meat, poultry, or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. The Senior Food Box is a perfect supplement to other food assistance programs in Pennsylvania such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Pennsylvania Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which provides seniors with fresh, Pennsylvania-grown fruits and vegetables from summer through fall.

More than 300,000 Pennsylvania seniors are eligible for the Pennsylvania Senior Food Box, but only about 35,000 are enrolled to receive it this year. Seniors often face barriers to access for food assistance programs such as mobility, technology, and stigma. This food box program aims to overcome those barriers by being available for drop off or drive through in addition to pick up and, now, by reducing stigma and red tape with the removal of income verification requirements.

“Supporting older adults with the nutritious foods they need requires us to understand the challenges they face in their daily lives and provide options to overcome these challenges. We want seniors to have sufficient food and a stable meal routine that enables good health, independence and a positive quality of life,” said Aging Secretary Robert Torres. “I am pleased to support the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to make this important food assistance program more accessible, and I urge eligible seniors to take advantage of it through the many options available.”

Food insecurity and hunger can have harmful impacts on the health and well-being of older adults. Poor food intake can cause nutrition deficiencies that increase disease risk or worsen existing conditions. Consuming fewer calories and nutrients can also decrease independence and the ability to remain home without assistance.

State Senator Carolyn Comitta, member of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and supporter of the Chester County Food Bank, joined Redding and Torres at Kings Terrace.

“It’s vital that senior citizens can easily access nutritious food to help ensure their health, well-being, independence, and happiness,” said Comitta. “This program is another tool we have to combat hunger among seniors. Seniors should know that food boxes are readily available and safely accessible in their communities.”

Pennsylvania’s Senior Food Box Program is administered on behalf of the Department of Agriculture by Hunger-Free Pennsylvania through their network of 17 food banks serving all 67 counties. Once signed up, eligible seniors can choose to receive their monthly box via pick up, drive-through, or delivery from a program partner including senior apartment complexes, senior community centers, and food pantries.

“Seniors are the greatest generation. They survived the Great Depression of the ‘30’s, World War II, and the Korean War,” said executive director of Hunter-Free Pennsylvania Sheila Christopher. “Now, hundreds of thousands find themselves without enough food on their table. The PA Senior Food Box is available to help. Help us help them.”

The Senior Food Box is available for anyone age 60 or above whose household income is at or below 130 percent of the U.S. poverty level. That totals $16,744 annually for a household of one, or $22,646 for a household of two.

To apply, seniors may call 800-468-2433 to be directed to the regional food bank distributing the Senior Food Box in their county. Or go online at and fill out the Senior Food Box Application Form.

New Report Includes Proposed Solutions to Oral Health Inequities

Tackling health inequities is a huge challenge, but there are ways we can champion progress and work toward solutions. These solutions include sustained, enhanced use of teledentistry, minimally invasive dentistry, interprofessional collaborative practice, workforce expansion, value-based care, and enhanced public insurance programs. CareQuest Institute experts partnered with industry leaders on a chapter in the new report from by Harvard Medical School’s Center for Primary Care.

Click here to access the report.

Challenges Identified in Implementing School-Based Oral Health Programs

School-based oral health programs are an essential access point for children to receive preventive oral health services, but the pandemic has disrupted K-12 learning. A survey of state and territorial dental directors reveals that while there are slight improvements seen for planned oral health programs in spring 2021, there may be an increase in children’s oral diseases — especially among racial/ethnic minority groups — in the coming years.

The report can be accessed here.