Nearly four months after its launch — and with millions of Americans now enrolled — a pandemic aid program still has money available to provide struggling households with monthly discounts on internet service and one-time savings on new computers.
The emergency benefit was included in a COVID stimulus package that Congress passed last December. The application window will close when the funding runs out — so there might not be much time left to apply.
If you’re having a tough time covering your household expenses or paying down debt, the discounts could provide some much-needed relief.
Over 5 million sign up for the savings
More than 5 million U.S. households have enrolled in the government’s emergency broadband benefit program since it kicked off on May 12, the Federal Communications Commission said last week.
The goal is to prevent families from losing access to an essential resource during the pandemic, the FCC says.
“No one should have to choose between paying their internet bill or paying to put food on the table,” said the FCC’s acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, in a news release when the program opened.
Working with broadband providers, the FCC is offering:
Up to $50 a month off your broadband service and associated equipment rentals.
A discount of up to $75 a month on your broadband service if your home is on qualifying tribal lands.
A one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, tablet or desktop computer.
Combined with relief like the expanded child tax credit included in the most recent stimulus package — the one President Joe Biden signed in March — the broadband benefit can help provide families with a financial cushion to ride out the coming months.
How to qualify for the discounts
You’re eligible for the internet and computer discounts as long as your household meets one of the following criteria:
Your income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty line for your family size, or you receive assistance through programs including SNAP “food stamps” or Medicaid.
You were approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school breakfast or lunch program during the last or current school year.
You experienced a substantial loss of income due to being laid off or furloughed since Feb. 29, 2020, and your household income last year was at or below $99,000 for single tax filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
You meet the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband company’s existing low-income or COVID programs.
Households are entitled to just one monthly service and one device discount each, even if there are multiple eligible people in the home.
The benefits will be available until the $3.2 billion allocated for the program runs out, or until six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID crisis — whichever comes sooner. The FCC’s update last week didn’t say how much money was left.
How to apply
You can sign up one of three ways:
Fill in the online form. You can apply online at GetEmergencyBroadband.org.
Mail in an application. If you’d rather send in your application, you can go to the website above and download the form in either English or Spanish (with instructions also available in nine other languages) and mail it, along with proof of your eligibility, to the emergency broadband support center in London, Kentucky.
Contact your broadband provider. You can check the FCC’s website to see whether your internet provider is one of the participating companies. Or you can call your provider’s customer service line to confirm its participation and get help with filling out your application.
Other ways to bolster your budget during COVID
Though $50 a month is nothing to scoff at, it may not keep you on your financial feet while the pandemic lingers. Here are a few other ways to give your bank account a little more stimulus.
Cut the cost of your debt. Credit cards can help in emergencies, but their high interest rates can be costly. If you’ve been relying heavily on plastic to get you through the COVID crisis, try rolling your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan to cut your monthly payments and get out of debt sooner.
Find cheaper insurance. If it’s been a while since you last looked around for a better price on your auto insurance, you may easily be overpaying by hundreds of dollars a year. Shop around to find the best possible rate on your coverage. And while you’re at it, use the same technique to score savings on your homeowners insurance.
Reduce your housing costs with a refi. If you’re a homeowner and haven’t refinanced your loan in the last year, you could be missing out on major savings. Refi rates are now available at 2% and even lower, and multiple studies have indicated that savings of $300 a month are typical.
Turn your pennies into profits. You don’t need to be rich, know all the lingo or pay massive brokerage fees to make some money in the record-breaking stock market. Using a popular app, you can build a portfolio just by Investing your “spare change” from everyday purchases.
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.