Letter to the Hon. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission - Durbin, Duckworth Join Bicameral Letter Urging Federal Communications Commission To Coordinate With Other Federal Agencies To Inform Low-Income Families They Can Receive Broadband Services


By: Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan, Kim Schrier, Peter Welch, Stacey Plaskett, Abigail Spanberger, Donald McEachin, Bobby Scott, Marc Veasey, Eddie Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Tim Ryan, Marcia Kaptur, Brian Higgins, Joe Morelle, José Serrano, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hakeem Jeffries, Gregory Meeks, Thomas Suozzi, Steven Horsford, Susie Lee, Ben Lujan, Jr., Bonnie Watson Coleman, Don Payne, Jr., Ann Kuster, Chris Pappas, David Price, Bennie Thompson, Kilili Sablan, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, Brenda Lawrence, Rashida Tlaib, Dan Kildee, Chellie Pingree, Jamie Raskin, David Trone, Stephen Lynch, Ayanna Pressley, Seth Moulton, Joe Kennedy III, Jim McGovern, Cedric Richmond, John Yarmuth, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Quigley, Robin Kelly, Bobby Rush, David Scott, John Lewis, Hank Johnson, Jr., Frederica Wilson, Darren Soto, Eleanor Norton, Joe Neguse, Alan Lowenthal, Linda Sánchez, Grace Napolitano, Zoe Lofgren, Jackie Speier, Barbara Lee, Jerry McNerney, Doris Matsui, Jared Huffman, Terri Sewell, Patty Murray, Sheldon Whitehouse, Henry Cuellar, Joaquin Castro, Vicente Gonzalez, Al Green, Steve Cohen, David Cicilline, Dwight Evans, Peter DeFazio, Suzanne Bonamici, Joyce Beatty, Eliot Engel, Adriano Espaillat, Yvette Clarke, Deb Haaland, Alma Adams, G. K. Butterfield, Jr., Emanuel Cleaver II, Anthony Brown, Katherine Clark, André Carson, Cheri Bustos, Bill Foster, Danny Davis, Chuy Garcia, Cindy Axne, Edward Case, Sanford Bishop, Jr., Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Sr., Kathy Castor, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Jahana Hayes, Diana DeGette, Nanette Barragán, T.J. Cox, Raul Grijalva, Tammy Baldwin, Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Jack Reed, Bob Casey, Jr., Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer, Jacky Rosen, Catherine Cortez Masto, Martin Heinrich, Tom Udall, Cory Booker, Bob Menendez, Maggie Hassan, Jeanne Shaheen, Tina Smith, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Van Hollen, Jr., Ben Cardin, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Mazie Hirono, Brian Schatz, Chris Coons, Tom Carper, Richard Blumenthal, Michael Bennet, Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Kyrsten Sinema, Doug Jones, Marcia Fudge, Anna Eshoo, Dick Durbin
Date: April 28, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to work directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help ensure the millions of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, due to job loss or reductions in income, are informed of their eligibility for the FCC's Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with providing financial assistance to help low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

The ongoing pandemic has led to financial hardships for millions of Americans. At least 26 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month alone, and states are seeing a surge in applications for SNAP benefits. Medicaid enrollment is also expected to increase significantly as a result of these unprecedented job losses and health coverage. 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 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.

Congress recently passed legislation to provide states additional funding and flexibility to streamline access to SNAP for people adversely effected by the economic impact of the coronavirus. Many of the at least 26 million Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own in the last five weeks may also soon turn to the food assistance programs to feed their families and enroll in Medicaid to access necessary health care. This will likely lead to a significant increase in the number of individuals eligible for the Lifeline program.

Even before the pandemic, only 7 million out of the 38 million people who were eligible for the Lifeline program were enrolled. While we understand that the FCC has traditionally issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program, given the critical role of internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge the FCC to coordinate directly with USDA and HHS as well as states and stakeholders to help ensure people in need are informed about their eligibility for the Lifeline program. We also respectfully request responses to the following questions:

1. What is the FCC currently doing to work with the USDA and HHS to help ensure that people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Lifeline program are aware that they can receive subsidized communications services?

2. What data has the FCC collected on the number of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Lifeline program since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and how many of those newly eligible have enrolled in the program?

3. Please detail the additional resources and authorities the FCC needs to ensure qualifying people in the U.S. know that they are eligible for the Lifeline program.

Thank you for prompt attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.