More than 140 Federal legislators urged Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to improve the agency’s communication with low-income families regarding the FCC’s Lifeline program.

In a letter sent today, the legislators – led by Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. – said Chairman Pai needs to work directly with the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) to inform families of their eligibility for broadband and telephone assistance through the Lifeline program.

The letter noted that millions of Americans who qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is a Federal program tasked 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 legislators wrote. “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 legislators noted that in the past the FCC has typically only issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program. However, due to the increased demand for broadband services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter says that the FCC needs to take a more active role to ensure that those who would qualify for the program are aware it exists.

The letter received support from FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that connectivity is more important than ever,” said Starks. “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.”

Industry and advocacy groups, including Public Knowledge, the National Consumers Law Center, United Church of Christ, OC Inc., and Third Way, also signed on to support the letter.

“The Lifeline program provides critical connectivity for those who need it most,” said Chris Lewis, president and CEO, Public Knowledge. “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.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs