Sen Klobuchar at al Urge FCC to Coordinate with other Feds to tell Low-Income Families they can get Broadband Services

From Senator Klobuchar…

Americans now eligible for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid due to job loss or reduction in income are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program

The FCC’s Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations, and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, along with 140 colleagues in both the House and Senate, urged Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to work directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that the millions of Americans who are now eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid due to job loss or reduction in income are informed that they are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

“Non-essential businesses and schools have closed across the country to limit the spread of the coronavirus, leaving families to rely on the internet now more than ever to access public benefits, search for employment, learn from home, or access telehealth services. The need is greatest among low-income households forced to stretch limited resources to try to keep up with monthly expenses and put food on the table during the public health crisis.  For these vulnerable populations, the FCC’s Lifeline program can help struggling families afford basic internet and telephone connectivity at a time when they need it most – but only if they know about it,” the lawmakers wrote.

“While we understand that the FCC has traditionally issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program, given the critical role of internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge the FCC to coordinate directly with USDA and HHS as well as states and stakeholders to help ensure people in need are informed about their eligibility for the Lifeline program.”

The letter is supported by Public Knowledge, the National Consumers Law Center, United Church of Christ, OC Inc., and Third Way.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that connectivity is more important than ever. I’ve called for the FCC to coordinate with agencies that administer services that determine eligibility for the Lifeline program to ensure low-income communities learn about the critical Lifeline program. Americans cannot afford for the government to work in silos, and I’m thankful for the leadership of Senator Klobuchar, Senator Durbin, Congresswoman Fudge, and Congresswoman Eshoo to make sure more Americans know about this essential program in our social safety net,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said.

“The Lifeline program provides critical connectivity for those who need it most. Informing consumers about their Lifeline eligibility is a necessary step to help close the digital divide and is clearly something we should continue doing even after the pandemic ends. We are grateful for the leadership of Senators Klobuchar and Durbin and Representatives Fudge and Eshoo on this issue,” said Chris Lewis, President and CEO, Public Knowledge.

In addition to Klobuchar and Durbin, the letter was signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH),  Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

In addition to Fudge and Eshoo, the letter was signed by Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC), Cindy Axne (D-IA), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), André Carson (D-IN), Ed Case (D-HI), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), David Cicilline (D-RI), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Anthony Brown (D-MD), TJ Cox (D-CA), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Daniel Kildee (D-MI), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Susie Lee (D-NV), John Lewis (D-GA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Donald McEachin (D-VA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Joe Morelle (D-NY), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Kim Schrier (D-WA), David Scott (D-GA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), José Serrano (D-NY), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), David Trone (D-MD), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to work directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help ensure the millions of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, due to job loss or reductions in income, are informed of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with providing financial assistance to help low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

The ongoing pandemic has led to financial hardships for millions of Americans. At least 26 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month alone, and states are seeing a surge in applications for SNAP benefits. Medicaid enrollment is also expected to increase significantly as a result of these unprecedented job losses and health coverage. Non-essential businesses and schools have closed across the country to limit the spread of the coronavirus, leaving families to rely on the internet now more than ever to access public benefits, search for employment, learn from home, or access telehealth services. The need is greatest among low-income households forced to stretch limited resources to try to keep up with monthly expenses and put food on the table during the public health crisis. For these vulnerable populations, the FCC’s Lifeline program can help struggling families afford basic internet and telephone connectivity at a time when they need it most – but only if they know about it.

Congress recently passed legislation to provide states additional funding and flexibility to streamline access to SNAP for people adversely effected by the economic impact of the coronavirus. Many of the at least 26 million Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own in the last five weeks may also soon turn to the food assistance programs to feed their families and enroll in Medicaid to access necessary health care. This will likely lead to a significant increase in the number of individuals eligible for the Lifeline program.

Even before the pandemic, only 7 million out of the 38 million people who were eligible for the Lifeline program were enrolled. While we understand that the FCC has traditionally issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program, given the critical role of internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge the FCC to coordinate directly with USDA and HHS as well as states and stakeholders to help ensure people in need are informed about their eligibility for the Lifeline program. We also respectfully request responses to the following questions:

1.    What is the FCC currently doing to work with the USDA and HHS to help ensure that people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Lifeline program are aware that they can receive subsidized communications services?

2.    What data has the FCC collected on the number of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Lifeline program since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and how many of those newly eligible have enrolled in the program?

3.   Please detail the additional resources and authorities the FCC needs to ensure qualifying people in the U.S. know that they are eligible for the Lifeline program.

Thank you for prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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