A group of 14 Democratic senators penned a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai on Aug. 20 detailing what they say is the agency’s failure to manage the Rural Health Care Program and COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
In the letter, the senators said that FCC “has not made sufficient funding available, has delayed rural healthcare funding decisions, and has not been transparent about its operations,” regarding both the COVID-19 telehealth program, which launched in March, and the 1996 established Rural Health Care Program, which was updated in 2018 to provide more money for projects to increase broadband connectivity in rural areas of the country.
“While on the one hand [increasing funding] is positive, on the other hand, these rollover funds were only available because the extreme delays in processing applications from the previous year were so significant that applicants did not have a chance to spend the funding that was ultimately committed to them,” the letter states.
The senators said that the rural healthcare program delays are continuing, and a significant number of applicants for fiscal year 2019 funding still have not learned whether their applications have been approved despite the application filing window for the next funding year 2020 recently closing. Additionally, the senators charged Mr. Pai and FCC with failing to guide the Universal Service Administrative Co. on how to manage the backlog of funding applications.
For the COVID-19 telehealth program, the senators have charged Mr. Pai and the FCC with failing to share information requested about the program, including how many applications were approved and whether providers have received their grant funding.
The senators asked Mr. Pai and the FCC to address these issues by Sept. 3.