U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced legislation to invest $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program to help close the homework gap and ensure families across New York can access essential online services. The Emergency Broadband Connections Act will bolster funding for the program, which provides $50 per month to workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic and $75 per month on Tribal lands, along with a range of other assistance. The legislation also facilitates the approval of benefits by providing funding to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility verifier and requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set up automated connections between the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier and the National Accuracy Clearinghouse for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“This funding is critical to closing the pervasive digital divide in our country. Many students and families across New York have been trying to do the impossible and get by in the era of COVID without access to broadband in their homes — instead they are relying on free public Wi-Fi or limited satellite internet. Limited access to reliable internet has not only increased the learning gap for students but it has also prevented millions of Americans from accessing the vital online employment, government, and health care resources they need during this time,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must fight to close the digital divide in our country and ensure that every American has access to essential technological resources, no matter their zip code or socioeconomic status. Rural and native families cannot wait any longer, and I’m going to fight to deliver emergency broadband funding to the communities that need it the most.
Research shows the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the “homework gap” experienced by an estimated 12 million students who lack reliable internet access at home. About 40% of families in New York State do not have access to an internet connected device or do not have access to reliable high speed internet at home, according to the Education Trust of New York. This problem particularly affects students in rural and urban areas, as well as lower-income students and students of color. As many services and businesses remain closed in response to public health guidelines, more workers and families are relying on online services to find jobs and access health care and other government services. The Emergency Broadband Connections Act would deliver resources to ensure students and working families can stay connected.
Senator Gillibrand has repeatedly fought to deliver funding to New York State to ensure students and families have access to reliable internet at home. The American Rescue Plan delivered more than $7.1 billion nationally to close the homework gap by providing internet and connected devices to vulnerable students and educators. New York is estimated to receive around $632 million in funding to help students and educators. Additionally, Gillibrand has called on the new FCC leadership to immediately authorize available emergency funds for the E-Rate program as schools and students continue to rely on remote learning during the pandemic. The E-Rate program allows students to learn safely from home while guaranteeing online access to course materials.