With remote learning necessitated by the pandemic, access to high-speed internet became as crucial for student success as pencils once were. While the urgency to address the digital divide brought about temporary solutions to narrow it, millions of low-income families still remain “under-connected” – meaning that their internet connectivity or devices are inadequate or unreliable for the tasks that families need them for. Even with many schools being open for in-person learning during the 2021-22 academic year, access to the internet remains a necessary tool for students to complete homework, pursue extracurricular and higher-education opportunities, and keep parents updated on their students’ progress.
In true ‘Say Ahhh!’ fashion, this is where we cue in Medicaid. Medicaid is among the federal programs that could qualify an estimated 48 million households for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Participation in the ACP will allow households at or below 200% of the federal poverty level to reduce their internet service cost by $30/month, and households residing on Tribal lands by $75/month. ACP benefits can be applied to over 1,300 internet service providers across rural, urban, and suburban areas. ACP-eligible families may also choose to enroll with one of the 21 companies that offer a high-speed internet plan for $30/month or less, effectively reducing their monthly internet costs to $0.
According to the landing page for the program, receiving the benefit requires two steps:
Step 1: Claim your affordable connectivity benefit- This step takes potential enrollees through the application process, screening first for eligibility through enrollment in a federal program (i.e. Medicaid), qualifying through household income, or through participating in an internet service provider’s low income plan. Once screened, potentially eligible applicants are directed to a separate site where they will have to provide information proving identity and participation in one of the qualifying programs.
To verify eligibility, the applicant must provide one of the following:
- Social security number
- Tribal ID number
- Driver’s license, Military ID, Passport, Taxpayer identification number, or some other Government-issued ID
To verify participation in a qualifying program, the applicant must provide documentation containing all of the following pieces of information:
- Name of applicant or qualifying dependent
- Name of qualifying program
- Name of the managed care organization, government or Tribal program administrator that issued the document
- An issue date that was within the last 12 months, or an expiration date that aligns with the benefit period.
Step 2: Contact a participating internet service provider to choose an internet plan- After receiving a notification of approval, applicants must contact one of the participating internet service providers to enroll in one of their low-cost plans, or apply the benefit to their current internet plan if that provider participates in the program. To determine which providers in the area are a part of ACP, search by location here. Certain providers also offer a one-time $100 discount to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.
With some schools beginning to close out for the summer, hopefully students will be able to get a well-deserved reprieve from the stressors of their screens. In the interim, community organizations can help spread awareness of this benefit by using the outreach toolkit or signing up to be an Outreach Partner.