The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the unequal access to vital services that plagues many communities within Chicago and across the country. While housing access, health insurance, and unemployment benefits have become political flashpoints, the impacts of the transition of services, work, and education to an online format due to the pandemic are unparalleled.
Over the past year, internet connectivity has become truly essential. Children without internet connections were not able to attend virtual school. Families without internet connections had difficulty applying for benefits, working remotely, and staying connected with loved ones. To help close the connectivity gap, Congress authorized the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program designed to give eligible and low-income families discounted internet service and subsidized internet-enabled devices.
Tens of thousands of families in our community are forgoing assistance to help pay for their internet connections.
More than 5 million American households have already taken advantage of this important benefit, including over 55,000 in Chicago. But recent data show that still less than 20 percent of eligible families nationwide are enrolled, and the rate for many communities here in Chicago is even lower. That means tens of thousands of families in our community are forgoing assistance to help pay for their internet connections. While many area non-profits have been hard at work helping eligible families sign up for the benefit, the reality is that Chicago is leaving money on the table that should be going to families in need.
Some have pointed to the temporality of the program as reason to avoid investing resources to drive sign-ups, but Congress has already extended the program once, and many believe that the program’s sunset may be extended indefinitely soon. Investing now in additional sign-ups will not only show policymakers that this assistance is critical for our families in need but will also pressure our elected officials to make these crucial benefits permanent.
To ensure continued progress in getting more Chicago families signed up, we need local government, elected officials, community organizations, and community leaders to step up and help get out the word. This means using both existing official channels like press releases, posts on official social media accounts, and discussion with media, and grassroots channels like community networks, faith-based organizations, and on-the-ground organizing. Only by using every available channel can we ensure that as many eligible families as possible are aware of the program and enroll.
We must work together to avoid leaving money on the table that should be going to Chicago’s most in-need families. It is time that all of our community members step up to do what they can to help get the word out and encourage sign-ups. If Chicago is to truly realize its potential in the interconnected world of the 21st century, we must ensure that no child is left unconnected and that no family must choose between putting food on the table, and paying their internet bill.
For more information on the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), how to sign up, or for help signing up visit ebbhelp.org. For resources to help spread awareness of the program, use this toolkit.
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