USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday, National Rural Health Day, announced a series of grants aimed at improving rural health and access to healthcare in rural areas.
USDA's Rural Development is awarding $20.4 million in grants that will provide rural Americans access to medical services, improve educational opportunities, and support Native American communities.
Additionally, USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture is awarding 12 grants totaling more than $1.4 million to universities for health and safety education.
According to the USDA, rural residents are more likely to report a fair to poor health status and have higher rates of health complications, morbidity and mortality due to challenges associated with: low levels of employment and education; geographic barriers and isolation; lack of quality nutrition and health education; and lack of access to health care.
Projects funded by the grants in fiscal year 2014 focus on a diversity of rural health and safety issues, from diabetes education, obesity prevention, and physical activity and healthy nutrition education, to eco-healthy child care promotion, and rural expansion of 4-H Healthy Living program.
The Secretary also urged rural Americans, who have higher rates of chronic conditions, to explore the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplace.
The Affordable Care Act, USDA said, has increased the size of the National Health Service Corps, which offers scholarships and loan repayment to health practitioners in return for practicing in rural communities and other underserved areas.