Rep. Eshoo, Sen. Klobuchar, Colleagues Hail Funding for College Student Connectivity

December 21, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), along with Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), and Alma S. Adams (D-NC) and Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV), applaud the inclusion of $285 million in pandemic relief funding passed today for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), their students, and minority-owned businesses near those colleges and universities.

“We must ensure students in need can continue their studies as colleges and universities begin another semester of instruction largely through remote learning,” said Rep. Eshoo. “I’m pleased that the pandemic relief legislation Congress passed includes dedicated funding for students of colleges and universities that need the funding most, based on my legislation, the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act. This is a critical investment in our country’s future.”

“As we continue to confront the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring college and university students have access to high-speed internet is critical,” Senator Klobuchar said. “This funding will help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial need can access high-speed internet and essential equipment, such as laptops and tablets, to help them stay connected to their schools and communities during this public health crisis.”

“Schools at all levels have been thrown upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. To make sure that our students receive the support they deserve, we need bold, innovative solutions,” said Rep. Matsui. “As our higher education institutions navigate the realities of remote distance learning, it is clear that more needs to be done to support our most vulnerable students without access to the internet or proper technology. I am proud to join with Representative Eshoo to lead this legislation and address the disparities that are affecting our students’ ability to learn during this crisis.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the digital divide in America. There are an estimated 14 million households—including more than 52,000 Hawaii households—that don’t have internet access,” Senator Hirono said. “This bipartisan relief bill invests in college students who are trying to keep up with their studies by providing internet-connected devices and broadband access to continue their education, even as social distancing continues.”

“In the wake of COVID-19’s spread, it has become clear just how essential access to broadband technology is for the viability of our nation’s educational institutions.  The virus’s outbreak has particularly severe implications for HBCU’s and other minority serving institutions which were already facing the unique challenges that come with delivering high quality education to the nation’s most underrepresented communities,” said Rep. G. K. Butterfield. “Unfortunately, many of these schools are plagued with infrastructure issues including limited access to digital and wireless technology, as well as outdated equipment and facilities. As universities across the country now rely on distance learning platforms, these problems have serious consequences for an institution’s ability to effectively educate its students. That’s why I am proud to join Rep. Eshoo in leading this legislation to ensure that schools and students have the technological resources necessary to address these obstacles both during the COVID-19 health crisis and beyond it.”

“I’m pleased our legislation passed as part of the COVID relief package because it will help provide community colleges and universities serving historically underserved and rural communities critical resources needed to strengthen online learning for the duration of this crisis, including supplying students in need tablets, routers, modems and Wi-Fi hotspots,” said Senator Peters.

“College students without adequate technology or access to the internet are at risk of falling behind as more classrooms become virtual due to the pandemic,” said Rep. Fudge.  “This is especially true at HBCUs and other minority serving institutions, that play a critical role in unlocking higher education opportunities for countless students of color.  I am proud to join Congresswoman Eshoo in introducing legislation that ensures students from underrepresented communities do not fall through the cracks during this and future crises.”

“Access to broadband is critical for our students in Nevada and across this country,” said Senator Rosen. “During this pandemic, colleges and universities across the country have struggled to provide students with the equipment and at home internet access necessary to make virtual learning effective. I’m thankful this bill is now one step closer to becoming law because our students feel the strain of our nation’s digital divide every day. This legislation will start the long process of leveling the digital playing field and allowing students greater access to quality education.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, we’ve seen the true challenges of distance learning. The situation has exacerbated already existing inequities and created unique challenges for low-income college students,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “I’m so pleased that our bill, which prioritizes funding for HBCUs like Delaware State University, has been included as part of our omnibus package and has been passed through both chambers. This bill serves as one more critical piece of relief that the American people need and I look forward to seeing it signed into law.”

“You can’t have equity in education today without eliminating the digital divide,” said Congresswoman Adams. “Today’s students must have access to a reliable internet connection and up-to-date technology if they want to succeed. COVID-19 makes that reality as clear as ever. I was proud to work with my colleagues in both chambers to secure provisions in the Omnibus Appropriations and Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act that will close the technology gap for our most underserved students.”

Background

Today, the House and Senate passed H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which includes government funding and COVID-19 relief funding. Section 902 of Division N of the legislation provides $285 million to expand internet connectivity for HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs and other MSIs (i.e., Alaska Native-serving institutions, Native Hawaiian-serving institution, Predominantly Black institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution, and Native American-serving nontribal institutions), their students, and minority-owned enterprises near those colleges and universities.

The funding can be used to purchase routers, modems, wi-fi hotspots, tablets, and laptops. Funding recipients must prioritize students eligible for the Pell Grant or the FCC’s Lifeline program; approved to receive unemployment insurance benefits; currently receiving other need-based financial aid; or earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., $39,300 for a family of four in the contiguous U.S.). The legislation also establishes the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to carry out programs to expand access to broadband at and in communities around HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs and other MSIs.

Section 902 of Division N is modeled on H.R. 6814 and S. 3701, the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, legislation the lawmakers introduced on May 13, 2020, which is support by 60 leading higher education, civil rights, technology, business, and public interest groups. 

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