Biden budget seeks another $400M for ReConnect program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Broadband ReConnect Program already got a $2 billion boost from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but President Joe Biden is looking to bolster the loan and grant initiative with a fresh batch of funding.

In a budget proposal covering fiscal 2024, Biden called for an additional $400 million to be allocated to the program to help deploy broadband in unserved areas.

“Installing high-speed internet creates high-paying union jobs and strengthens rural economies, which leads to higher property values, increased job and population growth, lower unemployment rates, and new business formation,” the budget states. “Reliable internet is also crucial for rural Americans to access healthcare services through telehealth.”

Unlike other federal broadband programs, ReConnect offers different types of support, including loans, grants and a combination of the two. Since 2019, ReConnect has distributed funding through three award rounds, with investments to date totaling more than $3.1 billion. The USDA solicited applications for a fourth funding round late last year and is expected to award more than $1.1 billion in additional support sometime this year.

This might seem like a lot of money, but USDA RUS Administrator Andrew Berke told Fierce in January the ReConnect Program has “been continuously oversubscribed since its inception.” That is, demand for support from the program exceeds the amount of money that’s actually available.

A USDA Rural Development spokesperson told Fierce on Thursday "The same is true with Round 4. This points to just how much people in rural communities need this type of assistance."

The budget Biden unveiled this week is just a proposal and Congress has the final say over spending. But it does indicate the president continues to view broadband – especially rural broadband – as a priority.

Even if ReConnect doesn’t get funding through the budget Congress ultimately passes, there’s another potential vehicle which could deliver an influx of cash for the program: the 2023 Farm Bill.

Congress has until October 1 to pass budget legislation. The Farm Bill will also be up for renewal in the second half of this year.