Biden requests $700 million for USDA’s “Reconnect Broadband Program”

Broadband deployment was the top focus for lawmakers during USDA’s rural development budget hearing.

President Biden’s budget request for 2022 includes $700 million dollars for USDA’s “Reconnect Broadband Program,” an increase of $65 million dollars.

Acting Rural Utilities Administrator Christopher McLean says that they use several combinations of funding to support connectivity.

According to McLean, “That ability to be able to take grants to the most needy areas, loan grant combos to the middle, and loan only to those that can afford it seem to be a good pathway for us forward.”

However, several lawmakers questioned the complexity of reconnect applications, which they say puts the smallest communities at a disadvantage. McLean says that USDA prioritizes grant opportunities in those situations.

“We can use grant dollars and target them to communities that need them the most and that’s really the key to be able to help under-resourced communities, because when our portfolio was only a small grant program... and loan dollars, that missed a lot of communities that need more help,” he states.

He says that the reconnect funding also has a 7 percent solution or designated funding for outreach and technical assistance.

“One of the things we are doing with those resources is trying to build an application system that is customer friendly so that you can apply for reconnect funds and minimize the levels of mistakes or errors so that you can stay in the game,” he explains.

He goes on to say that they also implemented a new “second chance” policy to help communities fix mistakes in their applications and resubmit them, but each application still faces still competition.

“These programs are very, very popular and they’re very competitive, and we have over subscriptions so we have to carefully weigh the projects against each other and be able to work to make sure that they are successful,” he adds.

In addition to the traditional funding requests of $700 million for USDA’s broadband program, the President has also proposed an investment of $100 billion for broadband in the “American Jobs” plan, which would be spread out over multiple agencies and programs.


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