For the last two years, stay-at-home orders and closed schools have made people’s reliance on the internet more apparent than ever. It also showcased the inequities in access to broadband internet. According to 2020 census data, 17% of Illinois households do not have broadband access, cutting them off from things like paying bills, accessing educational resources, and applying for jobs. Nationwide, Latino households are not only less likely to have broadband access, but also the devices needed to get connected. That’s why the Federal Communications Commission program called Emergency Broadband Benefit seeks to close that gap.
The $3.2 billion EBB program offers eligible households a $50 per month discount for broadband service and a one-time $100 discount to purchase an internet-enabled device. The program will end once funding runs out or six months after the public health emergency has been declared ended. The funds will be applied directly to the consumers’ monthly bill. There is a limit of one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
“Everyone deserves access to high-speed internet. We know it’s an economic issue and it’s you know in the 21st century people should not be lacking that access,” says Angie Cooper of the Arkansas-based nonprofit Heartland Forward. “It impacts how you search for a job, train for a job, do a job. It impacts health care, education and truly the overall economic success of our community.”
Heartland Forward is partnering with the League of United Latin American Citizens to perform outreach and education in Latino communities and increase awareness of this program.
“The benefits of this program are to really bring support to families that are not connected, and one of the main reasons is the cost. So this benefit will help them address the cost issues, and that’s a first in addressing the digital divide,” said Caroline Sanchez Crozier, national innovation and technology committee chair for LULAC.
“Besides the cost, the barriers are many times the language. It’s not easy to navigate getting enrolled and in different options for different providers. The other is [digital] literacy … understanding the different offerings and the benefits that having the internet can provide,” Crozier said. “LULAC is going to be available to help with all the other steps that it takes to not only get the internet but use it effectively for your work, for learning, for health, many things that happened after the pandemic that are now essential to be digitally connected.”
As long as one member of the household falls into one of the following bulleted eligibility categories, the whole household is eligible. Eligibility is not dependent upon immigration status. Program eligibility is derived from an adult or dependent child in the household. EBB eligibility criteria include one of the following:
· Has an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines
· Qualifies for Lifeline benefits through participation in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit;
· Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
· Experienced a substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020 due to job loss or furlough AND has a total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
· Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year;
· Received approval for benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-20, 2020-21, or 2021-22 school year; or
· Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program, and that provider received FCC approval for its eligibility verification process.
The FCC allows individuals to use an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) that they use to file their taxes if they do not feel comfortable providing a Social Security number as part of their application. When a qualifying individual applies to the EBB Program on behalf of themselves or a dependent child, there are many different types of identification (ID) that can be used to verify an identity. Applicants can choose one of the following:
· Social Security Number
· Tribal Identification Number
· U.S. Driver’s License
· Other Government-issued ID, such as a state ID
· U.S. Military ID
· Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
There are 3 ways to sign up:
· Contact a participating provider to sign up;
· Enroll online at www.getemergencybroadband.org; or
· Sign up via mail - to learn more or get a mail-in application, call (833) 511-0311