CONGRESSMAN JOE MORELLE ANNOUNCES NEW FEDERAL PROGRAM TO STRENGTHEN INTERNET ACCESS, CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

May 11, 2021
Press Release
The ‘Emergency Benefit Broadband Program’ opens to the public tomorrow, May 12. Morelle and community partners call for further investment and action to ensure broadband internet is accessible to all communities

(Washington, D.C.) – Today Congressman Joe Morelle announced the opening of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which seeks to make broadband internet more accessible and affordable for all communities. The program will provide a $50-per-month subsidy for qualified households to receive internet access through a local provider. Rep. Morelle and his partners in Congress secured $3.2 billion in funding for the program as part of a COVID-19 relief package in December 2020. Morelle was joined by community partners who reiterated his call for further action to close the ‘digital divide,’ which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that internet access is no longer a luxury—it is a fundamental right required to participate in today’s society,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “Unfortunately, too many families in our community still lack access to this basic necessity. I’m proud to have helped deliver funding for the Emergency Broadband Benefit to equip more families with the tools to succeed, and I encourage everyone who is eligible to take advantage of this important program. I’ll continue working alongside community partners and my colleagues in Congress to close the digital divide and ensure the internet is affordable and accessible to all.”

"The digital divide has profound impacts on children and families,” said Jackie Campbell, Director of ROC the Future Alliance. “Without equitable access to the internet, families in Rochester do not have full access to education, healthcare, human services, or employment. From prenatal care all the way through post-secondary education, internet access is essential. During the pandemic, our community came together to get access for children in the Rochester City School District. Now we need to work together for a long-term solution."

“It is imperative that we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only exacerbated the inequities that exist throughout our country, and in our community,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “Over the past year, we have witnessed the digital divide prevent families and children from receiving valuable services, along with education and employment. I am thankful for the efforts of Congressman Morelle and our other partners in government for their commitment to break down barriers to access, and look forward to the work of the Monroe County Advisory Task Force on Broadband to find concrete solutions to further address this significant inequity in our community.”

“Providing access to broadband support is critically important to Rochester families,” said Miguel Meléndez, Chief Community Engagement Officer at Ibero and current Rochester City Councilmember. “The digital divide has left entire neighborhoods behind. With many schools closed for in-person learning and emerging opportunities for web-based work-from-home jobs, it is imperative that we work towards eliminating as many barriers as possible for our working class families. Organizations like Ibero and libraries across this community will be available to assist with registration for this benefit. I urge every eligible citizen to take advantage of this program and we must continue to provide access to essential services like internet to achieve equity.”

According to a report prepared by ROC the Future Alliance this year, roughly 20 percent of Rochester residents do not have internet access, an issue that disproportionately impacts black and brown communities, seniors, and low-income households. That same report found that nearly every household has the infrastructure to accept broadband internet, indicating that the barrier to delivering access to our families is the cost of the service.

The federal Emergency Broadband Program, which opens tomorrow, May 12, was enacted by Congress in December as part of a COVID-19 relief package. Qualifications for the program include:

  • Household income at or below 135% of the federal poverty line
  • Participation in safety net programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, Public Housing Assistance, Veterans or Survivors Pension Benefits.
  • Proof of substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, with a total household income at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
  • Participation in free and reduced-price school lunch program for the 2019-2020 or 2020-21 school year.

The program will continue until funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, whichever comes first. Applications can be completed online at getemergencybroadband.org, via mail, or through the internet providers themselves. Those looking to apply can also contact ROC the Future or the Monroe County Library System for assistance navigating the program.

More information regarding the program can be found at getemergencybroadband.org.

“From helping students do their homework to connecting workers with jobs to making it easier for families to access benefits or vaccinations, closing the digital divide will have a profound effect on uplifting our entire society,” continued Rep. Morelle. “This emergency program is an important step in the right direction, but there’s still so much more work to be done. I’m dedicated to modernizing our digital infrastructure and taking action to ensure internet is accessible to every person in every community, even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

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