The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is relaxing some of the requirements to qualify for its subsidized broadband and phone service Lifeline program as more people need access during the coronavirus emergency.
Specifically, the agency's Wireline Competition Bureau relaxed a rule that required an applicant to submit three consecutive months of income documentation to qualify for the service. The waiver of the rule will last until June 30.
The move comes as millions of Americans have signed up for unemployment insurance over the last few weeks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
"There are more than 30 million Americans out of work. It's vital that we help them stay connected in this crisis. So the FCC updated its policies to make sure the newly-unemployed can participate in the Lifeline program. This is the right thing to do," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, tweeted.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he was "glad" the agency was relaxing the requirements, adding that it will "help those who may have only recently become eligible for Lifeline to sign up for the program and stay connected to vital broadband and phone services during the pandemic."
Amid the pandemic, lawmakers and experts have urged the FCC to open up the Lifeline program and its E-Rate program—which provides subsidies to schools and libraries to get devices that connect people to the internet.
Americans are also eligible for Lifeline if they participate in a number of other programs like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—something 140 members of Congress recently asked the FCC to make more readily apparent to people.
Earlier this week Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) led a group of Congresspeople asking the FCC to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to inform people who signed up for SNAP or Medicaid because of coronavirus-related job losses that they are also eligible for Lifeline.
"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 lawmakers wrote in a letter earlier this week. "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."
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