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Friday, July 26, 2002
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343


HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced a series of new steps and the availability of $46 million in grant funding to improve health care and social services for the 65 million Americans living in rural areas. Building on his commitment one year ago to strengthen the health care and social services safety net for rural Americans, Secretary Thompson is unveiling this new plan based on recommendations from his Rural Task Force.

"We need to improve services to rural Americans," Secretary Thompson said. "These bold next steps will help us coordinate our efforts with the states, local and tribal governments and provide life saving and life enhancing services to millions of Americans."

Secretary Thompson released the Rural Task Force's report, One Department Serving Rural America, today. The report highlights new approaches to improve five key areas: improving access to services; strengthening rural families; supporting rural economic development; improving coordination among state, local and tribal governments; and conducting more and better research to inform local and federal policy-makers about the needs of rural communities.

The report also warns that many rural providers feel that federal regulations generally designed for urban and suburban areas are compromising their ability to give high quality services to local residents.

"For too long our rural health care and social service providers have been burdened with rules and regulations designed for urban and suburban communities," Secretary Thompson said. "Today we begin to change that. Today we begin to look at rural communities as something unique and independent -- not as 'small cities'."

The new actions announced today include:

Also in President Bush's budget is a proposed $1.5 billion for community health centers, nearly half of which are in rural areas across the country. This amount reflects a $114 million increase over fiscal year 2002, and would provide medical care for an additional 1 million Americans. Expanding community-based health centers is a key element of the Bush administration's plan to increase access to care for the nation's most medically underserved individuals.

The rural report is the work of a task force created by Secretary Thompson as part of his Initiative on Rural America announced last July. He charged the department-wide task force to explore ways to breakdown barriers and improve health and social services to rural America.

Currently, approximately 225 HHS programs serve rural and frontier communities. These include public health financing programs such as Medicare and Medicaid; social welfare programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and child care and child welfare programs.

"Health care can represent up to 20 percent of a community's employment and income," Secretary Thompson said. "In some lower-income rural communities, federal support for these services may account for as much as 50 percent of the community's revenue. The department's efforts to bring more and better health and social services to rural areas will also give a boost to local economies."

The task force was coordinated by HHS' Office of Rural Health Policy, within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the department's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

The task force's report is available


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