The Internet has moved from a luxury to an essential utility for most Americans. A 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 90% of respondents who had looked for a new job in the two years prior to the study used the Internet to research jobs, while 84% had applied for a job online. Additionally, as the National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2021, “access to computers and the internet were important to education prior to the pandemic” but “became essential tools for students to remain engaged during the 2020-21 academic year,” and while Internet access was nearly universal for families at least in the middle-low quarter of income or with higher parental education, 14% of households in the lowest quarter of family income relied exclusively on a smartphone for Internet access, and 11% of such households did not have home Internet access at all. Clearly, home Internet access is a vital resource for employment and education opportunities, but access is inequitably drawn along income lines.
Thankfully, there is government assistance available to attempt to address some of this inequity via the Affordable Connectivity Program, as a recent Social Security Administration blog post by the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief of the Federal Communications Commission recently explained. In short, eligible households can get a $30-per-month discount on Internet service and a one-time $100 discount toward the purchase of a laptop so long as the household spends more than $10 and less than $50 on the laptop’s purchase price. Any household with an SSI recipient is eligible, and the assistance provided is not counted as income or a resource for SSI. Even if not eligible for or not yet receiving SSI, individuals receiving other federal benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid, or federal public housing assistance may be eligible, as well as those with household incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.More information about the Affordable Connectivity Program can be found here. You can check eligibility here, and you can apply for the resource here. If you are eligible for the program and do not currently have a laptop or reliable home Internet to help with the navigation of employment and education opportunities or needed state or federal benefits, you should consider applying now.