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Federal financial help coming for broadband access 

Low income individuals and families in Virginia may be eligible to receive temporary federal assistance to pay for broadband internet services in the near future through a program designed to help people during the COVID-19 crisis.

Families and individuals can receive a monthly discount of up to $50 (or up to $75 for eligible households on tribal lands). The money will be sent to the internet service provider and the internet provider, in turn, will reduce the monthly bill. Participants will not receive the money directly.

The assistance is available thanks to the passage of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which established an emergency broadband connectivity fund of $3.2 billion to help Americans afford internet service during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Communications Commission, in turn, will use the funding to establish an emergency broadband benefit program through which eligible households may receive a discount off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices, and participating providers can receive a reimbursement for the discounts, according to an announcement from the Virginia Legal Aid Society.

The FCC has not established a start date for the program yet, but those interested should be able to sign up for the benefits by the end of April. The program will end when the fund is expended or six months after the end of the public health emergency.

“The ability to find services, help and information, to apply for jobs and schedule COVID-19 vaccinations, and to take part in online school and college classes depends on having reliable internet connections,” David Neumeyer, the society’s executive director, said in an announcement. “For many low-income people those connections are unavailable or unaffordable; that is why Virginia Legal Aid Society is helping to publicize this financial help.”

For questions about eligibility and to find out which broadband providers are part of the program, visit fcc.gov/consumer-faq- emergency-broadband-benefit or call 888-225-5322 and choose option 6. The number is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

The Virginia Legal Aid Society is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal services to eligible low-income residents in 20 counties and six cities in the central, Southside and Western Tidewater regions. The society provides free information, advice and representation on issues such as housing, health care, income, family issues and education.