A long-awaited pandemic deal is now available from the government, offering struggling families and households a monthly discount on internet service and one-time savings on a new computer.
The emergency benefit, included in former President Donald Trump’s final stimulus package, was approved by Congress last December. The application window opened earlier this month and will close when the funding runs out — so there might not be much time left to apply.
If you’re having a tough time covering your household expenses or paying down debt, the discounts could provide some much-needed relief.
Here’s more on whether you qualify — and how to apply.
Savings on broadband internet and more
The Federal Communications Commission is running the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which is designed to prevent families from losing accessing to an essential resource during the pandemic.
"No one should have to choose between paying their internet bill or paying to put food on the table," says the FCC’s acting chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, in a news release.
"With the help of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, we have a new way for households to access virtual learning, for patients to connect to telehealth providers and for those struggling in this pandemic to learn new online skills and seek their next job," Rosenworcel says.
Working with broadband providers, the FCC is offering:
Up to $50 a month off your broadband service and associated equipment rentals.
A discount of up to $75 a month on your broadband service if your home is on qualifying tribal lands.
A one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, tablet or desktop computer.
Combined with relief like the expanded child tax credit included in the stimulus package President Joe Biden signed in March, the broadband benefit helps give families a strong financial cushion to ride out the coming months.
How to qualify for the discounts
You're eligible for the internet and computer discounts as long as your household meets one of the following criteria:
Your income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty line for your family size, or you receive assistance through programs including SNAP (formerly called "food stamps") or Medicaid.
You were approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school breakfast or lunch program during the last or current school year.
You experienced a substantial loss of income due to losing your job or being 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.
Households are entitled to just one monthly service and one device discount each, even if there are multiple eligible people in the home.
The FCC will continue to provide eligible households with the monthly credit until the $3.2 billion allocated for the program runs out, or until six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID crisis — whichever comes sooner.
How to apply
You can apply one of three ways:
Fill in the online form. You can apply online at GetEmergencyBroadband.org.
Mail in an application. If you’d rather send in your application, you can go to that website and download the form in either English or Spanish (wih instructions available in nine other languages) and mail it, along with proof of your eligibility, to the emergency broadband support center in London, Kentucky.
Contact your broadband provider. You can check the FCC's website to see whether your internet provider is one of the participating companies. Or you can call your provider’s customer service line to confirm its participation and get help with filling out your application.
Other ways to bolster your budget during COVID
Though $50 a month is nothing to sniff at, it may not be enough to put your back on your financial feet while the pandemic lingers. Here are a few other ways to give your bank account a little more stimulus.
Cut down your debt payments. Credit cards can help in emergencies, but their high interest rates will cost a ton in the long run. 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 to cut your monthly payments and get out of debt sooner.
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. And while you’re at it, use the same technique to score savings on your homeowners insurance.
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 incredible savings. An estimated 13 million homeowners could save an average $283 a month with a refi, the mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight said recently.
Turn your pennies into profits. You don’t need to be rich, know all the lingo or pay massive brokerage fees to make some money in the record-breaking stock market. Using a popular app, you can grow a portfolio just by Investing your "spare change" from everyday purchases.