Wednesday evening, Sec. Tom Vilsack was sworn into office from his home in Iowa virtually by Vice President Kamala Harris. Vilsack wasted no time.
Thursday morning, USDA announced a $42 million investment to help rural residents gain access to telemedicine and educational opportunities.
“Rural residents are more vulnerable to serious infection and death,” said Vilsack. “[COVID] infection rates are higher in rural America according to the Rural Policy Research Institute’s report. It’s incredibly important for the Department of Agriculture—that’s focused on rural development and rural life—to do what it can to expand access to healthcare facilities and healthcare generally.”
Vilsack and the USDA also announced next steps for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Additional Assistance (CFAP-AA), including an extension.
“CFAP-AA, which is the next round, we are in the process of reviewing it and felt it was necessary to extend the signup period during this evaluation and review,” he said. “We are now and will extend the signup period for CFAP-AA until such time as we’ve made a final decision on how we’re going to structure the next steps in terms of administering this portion of CFAP.”
Once USDA makes those determinations, it will give producers a 30-day notice before the program closes.
“The bottom line of this is we want to do it in the right way, and we want to make sure that as we look at the totality of the relief we’ve provided and will be provided is an equitable distribution based on commodity, need, region, size of operation and so forth,” said Vilsack.