A long-awaited pandemic deal is finally kicking in this week, offering struggling families a monthly discount on their internet bills and a one-time discount on a new computer.
The benefit, included in former President Donald Trump’s final stimulus package, was approved by Congress in December.
It’s taken a while to arrive, but if you’re having a tough time covering your household expenses or paying down debt, this discount could offer some much-needed relief.
Here’s more on whether you qualify, and how to apply once the program begins accepting applications on Wednesday May 12.
Savings on broadband internet and more
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a program run by the Federal Communications Commission. It’s designed to make sure families don’t lose access to an essential resource during the pandemic.
"No one should have to choose between paying their internet bill or paying to put food on the table," says the FCC’s acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, in a release.
"With the help of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, we have a new way for households to access virtual learning, for patients to connect to telehealth providers and for those struggling in this pandemic to learn new online skills and seek their next job," Rosenworcel says.
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 benefits like the expanded child tax credit from President Joe Biden’s first stimulus bill, the new relief will help provide families with a strong financial cushion to ride out the coming months.
Do you qualify for a discount?
You’ll be eligible for the internet stimulus 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 (formerly called "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 losing your job or being furloughed since Feb. 29, 2020 and your household income last year was at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
You meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID programs.
Each household is entitled to just one monthly service and one device discount, even if you have multiple eligible members in your home.
The FCC will continue to provide eligible households with the monthly credit until the $3.2 billion allocated for the program runs out, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID crisis — whichever comes sooner.
How to apply
You can apply one of three ways:
Fill in the online form. As of May 12, an online application will be available in both English and Spanish at GetEmergencyBroadband.org.
Mail in an application. If you’d rather send in your application, you can download the forms in either English, Spanish or eight other languages from the FCC site and mail it, along with your proof of eligibility, to the emergency broadband support center in Kentucky.
Contact your broadband provider. You can check the FCC's website to see whether your provider is one of the participating companies. Or you can call up your provider’s customer service line to confirm or get assistance filling out your application.
What if you need more cash right now?
Though $50 a month is nothing to sniff at, you have a few other options if your bank account needs more stimulus right now..
Cut down your debt payments. Credit cards can help in emergencies, but their high interest rates will cost a ton in the long run. If you've been relying heavily on plastic to get you through the pandemic, try to reduce your monthly payments and get out of debt sooner by rolling all of your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.
Make saving your policy. When was the last time you looked around for a better price on your auto insurance? If it’s been a while, it may be costing you more than $1,000 extra every year. Shop around to be certain you’re paying the best possible rate. And while you’re at it, use the same technique to save hundreds on homeowners insurance.
Get a better rate with a refi. If you’re a homeowner and you haven't refinanced your loan in the last year, you could be missing out on incredible savings. Across the country, 13 million homeowners could save an average $283 a month through a refi, according to mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight.
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 grow a portfolio just by Investing "spare change" from everyday purchases.