The bipartite infrastructure package details published last Friday suggested that the Web wellness program buried deep in second COVID relief bill would be expanded and transformed from an “emergency” benefit program to a regular social assistance program.
Now that we have the legislative text, we can see how it will actually work. At page 2 170 of the 2,702-page bill begins Section 60502, which describes the changes to the program. All references to the COVID emergency from the original legislation are deleted. The name is changed from “Emergency Broadband Benefit Program” to “Affordable Connectivity Program”. Created out of a false emergency, it is a regular government program now, and it is not going to go away.
The benefit is reduced from $ 50 per month to $ 30 per month. This is still far beyond the existing broadband subsidy program for low-income households, Lifeline, which offers a subsidy of $ 9.25 per month (and participants in the new program can still perceive the benefits of Lifeline. also).
Eligibility is broadened. Previously, people could be eligible if they earned up to 135% above the federal poverty line. This has increased to 200 percent. The COVID-related unemployment provisions are removed and households are now eligible if a household member receives assistance through SNAP or WIC. This is in addition to the same eligibility requirements as the original program, which includes receiving a Pell Grant or having a child receive a free or discounted school lunch.
Internet service providers are now required to allow customers to apply the benefit to any Internet service offering they have. Internet service providers already offer low-income plans, with prices sometimes as low as 10% per month. Thirty dollars a month is more than enough to cover many low income plans. Thus, beneficiaries will now be able to either pay all of their Internet bills or switch to a better Internet package, all at taxpayer expense.
What is the cost? Based on this invoice: $ 0.
How? ‘Or’ What? Well, Congress didn’t allocate any more money to support the expansion of the program. The second COVID relief bill has affected $ 3.2 billion and said the program will last until the money runs out. The bipartite bill on infrastructure simply adds: “On the date on which the sums allocated to the title [the second COVID relief bill] have been fully spent, the [FCC] will submit to Congress a certificate of this fact.
These provisions create a new social assistance program that will cost billions every year in the future, but the wording of the law simply changes existing laws and does not affect money. Congress will need to allocate money to the affordable connectivity program at some point in the future, but that money will not go towards the price of the bipartite infrastructure deal. This has two advantages for Congress: (1) it can give a boost to a funding decision, and (2) the bipartisan infrastructure deal will seem cheaper than it actually is.
Unlike a one-time grant to build a bridge, the affordable connectivity program will have annual costs for years to come. It is not the infrastructure. It’s a social assistance program that hides behind the cover of infrastructure, and Congress won’t even tell us what it will cost.
President Biden wants us to believe that this bill is about build bridges. The affordable connectivity program is just one example that shows that is not the case, and there are certainly more in a 2,702 page bill.