The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has announced it is providing about $1.1 billion in loans and grants to help construct and upgrade rural community facilities in nearly every state, including health care buildings, schools and libraries. The aid, which the department announced on Jan. 26, will go to more than 730 rural projects in 48 states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

Most of the projects are buildings, but equipment, such as first responders’ vehicles, also are eligible for the funds. And though most of the individual loans and grants are small amounts, there are exceptions.

The largest allocation is $360 million—in the form of a direct loan and a loan guarantee—to the Medical West Hospital Authority in Alabama, to help construct a 405,186-sq-ft hospital, with 200 beds, in Bessemer.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said the hospital project “will expand access to critical health care services for thousands of residents in Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties and the surrounding rural communities.”

Essential Community Facilities

The USDA funding comes in five categories: direct loans, disaster grants, loan guarantees, economic impact initiative grants and technical assistance training grants. The funds can go to buy, construct or upgrade “essential community facilities,“ according to USDA.

Direct loans account for the largest share of the total aid, with $869.9 million. The department awards the loans and grants on a competitive basis.

To be eligible for the funds, projects must be in rural areas that have no more than 20,000 residents. One priority factor in the selection process is for projects located in communities with a population of 5,500 or less.

Another priority is for projects in low-income communities—those with a median household income below 80% of the state non-metropolitan-area median.

The USDA funding is not part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.