Queens Rep. Grace Meng and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) are calling on House and Senate leaders to provide another $1 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), the $7.1 billion program the two lawmakers helped create last year that connects more students to the internet.
The money, which pays for devices and broadband services, helps students who have had no internet access get online, and schools and libraries in Queens and New York City have received millions from the program.
“I am proud to have helped create the Emergency Connectivity Fund which has greatly benefited schools and libraries here in Queens and New York City including funds for the Queens Public Library,” Meng said. “The money has helped local students connect to the internet after many lacked an internet connection, and it has done so as our borough and city have recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we saw how crucial internet access is for our kids’ schoolwork. But we need more funding to keep the program going, and I urge congressional leaders to ensure that additional funds are allocated.”
Meng and Markey made their request for the increased funding in a letter they sent to the House Speaker, House Minority Leader and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, asking that the money be included in an upcoming spending bill that funds the federal government.
This additional funding would be sufficient for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund every valid application it received in the most recent application window. In May, the FCC announced that it had received more than $2.8 billion in requests for ECF funds in the most recent application window — far more than the estimated $1.5 billion in remaining funds.
“Without congressional action, we may stumble over this digital cliff with devastating consequences,” Meng and Markey wrote in their letter. “Kids who relied on ECF-provided laptops and hotspots to complete their homework could suddenly find themselves in the dark, returning to pre-ECF years when they struggled to keep up with their connected classmates. Teachers who counted on the ECF program to allow them to draft lesson plans and connect to students and their parents at home will lose these crucial resources.”
The lawmakers said this impact will “fall hardest on the low-income, disadvantaged and rural communities that relied most heavily on the ECF.”
“The end of the Emergency Connectivity Fund will effectively turn an important investment in our students into stranded assets and a wasted opportunity. […] To avoid this damaging outcome, we urge you to support an additional $1 billion in funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund as part of the disaster supplemental division in the fiscal 2023 omnibus,” the lawmakers wrote. “We cannot let millions of students fall back into the digital divide.”
The spending bill that Meng and Markey are seeking to include the $1 billion in is the disaster supplemental division of the year-end omnibus legislation. The two helped create the Emergency Connectivity Fund by securing the program in the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief bill that was enacted in 2021.
In June, Meng and Markey were joined by their colleague Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in leading dozens of their colleagues on a letter urging congressional leadership to support their continued efforts to provide funding for the ECF. In July 2021, the three lawmakers also introduced the Securing Universal Communications Connectivity to Ensure Students Succeed (SUCCESS) Act, which would provide an additional $8 billion a year over five years to the ECF.