A New Year's Eve deadline
The FCC has said the goal of the broadband benefit is to prevent families from losing access to an essential resource during COVID-19.
"No one should have to choose between paying their internet bill or paying to put food on the table," Rosenworcel said in a news release when the program opened.
Households have been able to receive:
- Up to $50 a month off broadband service and associated equipment rentals.
- A discount of up to $75 a month on broadband service for homes on qualifying tribal lands.
- A one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, tablet or desktop computer.
But the current program is winding down and will be replaced by a less generous one in the new year. Families have until Friday, Dec. 31, to enroll and receive the current benefit until March 1, 2022, the FCC says.
The broadband benefit will be morphing into a new Affordable Connectivity Program created by the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed in November.
It's not clear yet how families will transition from the existing program to the new one, though the FCC's website says households will need to "requalify."
Here's something that is known: The maximum discount on internet for most families will be reduced — from $50 a month down to $30.
But the government indicates it may become easier to get a benefit, because consumers will have new ways to qualify. Right now, you're eligible for the assistance if:
- Your income is at or below 135% of federal poverty guidelines for your family size, or you receive assistance through programs including SNAP "food stamps" or Medicaid.
- Your kids were approved to receive benefits under a free or reduced-price school meal program during the last or current school year.
- You experienced a substantial loss of income due to being laid off or furloughed since Feb. 29, 2020, and your household income last year was at or below $99,000 for single tax filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
- You meet the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband company's existing low-income or COVID programs.
Under the new program, you can qualify:
- With an income up to 200% of the poverty line.
- If your household receives WIC nutrition benefits.
How to apply — and how to bolster your budget even further
To get on board the current $50-a-month broadband benefit before the New Year's cutoff, apply online at GetEmergencyBroadband.org.
And if you're needing even more money to stay on your financial feet as the pandemic hangs on, here are a few ways to give your bank account more stimulus.
Cut the cost of your debt. Credit cards can help in emergencies, but their high interest rates can be costly. If you've been relying heavily on plastic to get you through the COVID crisis, try rolling your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.
Find cheaper insurance. If it's been a while since you last looked around for a better price on your auto insurance, you may easily be overpaying by hundreds of dollars a year. Shop around to find the best possible rate on your coverage.
Reduce your housing costs with a refi. If you’re a homeowner and haven't refinanced your loan in the last year, you could be missing out on major savings. Refi rates are now available at 2% and even lower, and multiple studies have indicated that savings of at least $300 a month are typical.
Turn your pennies into profits. You don’t need to be rich, know all the lingo or pay massive brokerage fees to make money in the record-breaking stock market. Using a popular app, you can build a portfolio just by Investing your "spare change" from everyday purchases.