Lifeline Program and Internet Access

FCC to halt expansion of broadband subsidies for poor people, By Jon Brodkin, March 29, 2017, Ars Technica: “The Federal Communications Commission is dropping its legal defense of a new system for expanding broadband subsidies for poor people, and it will not approve applications from companies that want to offer the low-income broadband service. The decision announced today by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would halt implementation of last year’s expansion of the Lifeline program. This 32-year-old program gives poor people $9.25 a month toward communications services, and it was changed last year to support broadband in addition to phone service…”

SNAP Program and Online Shopping

Food stamp recipients will soon be able to order groceries online, By Maura Judkis, January 10, 2017, Washington Post: “Beginning this summer, some Americans who receive food assistance will have a new way to feed their families. The Agriculture Department said that it will test a program that allows people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, known as food stamps — to order groceries online through various retailers. The ability to shop online could bring healthful food into food deserts, low-income areas where fresh food is not readily available…”

Fuel Poverty – England

More than 2.3m families living in fuel poverty in England, By Jessica Elgot, December 30, 2016, The Guardian: “More than 2.3 million families are living in fuel poverty in England – the equivalent of 10% of households, according to government statistics. Almost 60,000 households in Birmingham alone cannot afford to heat their homes. The figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show the West Midlands city is worst affected, with Leeds, Cornwall, Manchester and Liverpool also in the top five local authorities where households face ‘eat or heat’ choices in winter…”

Mobile Banking

  • Dial M for money: Can mobile banking lift people out of poverty?, By Nurith Aizenman, December 9, 2016, National Public Radio: “If you live in Kenya there’s a jingle you hear on television and radio a lot.   ‘Things are now modern!’ they sing. ‘Things are now developed.’ It’s an ad for a type of banking service called M-PESA that’s run entirely through your mobile phone. You set up an account with the phone company. You can send and receive funds by text. Or, if you need to make a cash deposit or withdrawal, you do it through a vast network of agents — small-time vendors in kiosks and shops, for example, that the company has set up…”
  • Here’s why mobile money is dramatically reducing poverty in Kenya, By Robert Gebelhoff, December 22, 2016, Washington Post: “For Tavneet Suri, an economics professor at MIT who grew up in Kenya, much has changed in her home country over the past decade. What used to be an economy relatively closed off to the rest of the world is now a one where the vast majority of people are paying bills and sharing money with one another through cellphones…”

Fuel Poverty in the UK

Fuel poverty: How can UK tackle cold homes and high bills?, By Dave Harvey, November 17, 2016, BBC News: “When the temperature drops and the chill sets in, people in the UK are more likely to feel it in their homes than their continental neighbours. In European surveys comparing 16 countries with similar climates, the UK was near the bottom.  Why? Because it has the draughtiest windows and least insulated homes. For many families that means the moment they turn off the heating, the warmth goes out of the windows…”

Public-Assistance Computer System – Rhode Island

69-page report details failings of public-assistance computer system, By Katherine Gregg, October 15, 2016, Providence Journal: “The hours-long wait times inside Rhode Island’s welfare offices, the inability to get through on phone lines and the deep ‘customer frustration’ with the troubled launch of the state’s new $364-million computer system are documented in a report the Raimondo administration provided to a federal agency on Friday.  The report spells out in detail, over 69 data-filled pages, the real-life problems faced in recent weeks by thousands of Rhode Islanders who rely on public-assistance benefits to buy food and pay for other basics, including one-hour, 40-minute wait times on the phone, and 2½-hour waits to talk to someone in person…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Tech companies expect free high-speed internet for poorer Americans to pay off later, By Cecilia Kang, October 11, 2016, New York Times: “There is an axiom in technology: New products typically go to wealthy customers first, before prices eventually fall to reach the masses.  With broadband now classified like a utility, telecom and tech companies, including Sprint, Comcast and Facebook, are increasingly working to make high-speed internet accessible to every American, not just a luxury. The companies are among those that have set their sights on bringing free or cheap high-speed internet service to low-income and rural populations in the United States, spurred by philanthropy and, for some, the hope of turning Americans who are not online today into full-paying customers in the future…”

SNAP Program and Online Shopping

  • Why SNAP benefits could be going digital, By Christina Beck, September 15, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Online shopping has long been a boon for most Americans, whether they hate the scrutinizing stares of fellow shoppers, the chaos of big stores, or simply can’t get out the door. Soon, modifications to the federal food stamp program, SNAP, might make the benefits of online shopping available to some who could need it most: the many recipients who live in areas where there are fewer healthy grocery stores, known as ‘food deserts…'”
  • Federal food stamp program to test online shopping for recipients, By Greg Trotter, September 15, 2016, Chicago Tribune: “Starting next summer, Illinois residents on food stamps may be able to buy their groceries online through a two-year federal pilot program intended to increase food access for the poor.  Times, they are a’changin’, though faster for some than others. Online shopping has dramatically altered buying habits for most Americans in recent years, and now, the $75 billion federal food stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is moving toward making that option available to the 43 million or so people across the country receiving benefits…”

Identifying Poverty Areas using Satellite Imagery

Scientists use machine learning to fight global poverty from space, By Lonnie Shekhtman, August 18, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Satellites are best known for helping smartphones map driving routes or televisions deliver programs. But now, data from some of the thousands of satellites orbiting Earth are helping track things like crop conditions on rural farms, illegal deforestation, and increasingly, poverty in the hard-to-reach places around the globe…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Comcast expands Internet access to more low-income families, By Pam Adams, July 15, 2016, Peoria Journal Star: “More low-income households, including veterans, senior citizens and adults without children, will have access to low-cost internet service from Comcast.  The country’s largest cable provider is expanding Internet Essentials to all housing programs in its service areas that receive funds for from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program originally was developed in 2011 to provide low-cost internet service for families of grade school and high school students who met eligibility guidelines for the federal free lunch program…”

Home Energy Costs

Where the poor spend more than 10 percent of their income on energy, By Adam Chandler, June 8, 2016, The Atlantic: “From childcare to payday loans, to the difficulty of buying in bulk and beyond, the list of what makes being poor so expensive is long already. And here’s another: energy-related expenses. The threshold beyond which experts believe energy ceases to be ‘affordable’ is 6 percent of a household’s income. But for many lower-income households, even with declining energy prices, paying less than that benchmark is a fantasy. DeAndrea Newman Salvador, an economist and the founder of The Renewable Energy Transition Initiative, a nonprofit, studied the cost of home utilities in her native North Carolina and found that energy expenditures among low-earning households were staggeringly high…”

Internet Access and Unemployment – Detroit, MI

Unemployed Detroit residents are trapped by a digital divide, By Cecilia Kang, May 22, 2016, New York Times: “In downtown Detroit, start-ups and luxury retailers are opening up and new office buildings are being built as the city works to recover from its deep economic problems. Six miles to the north, in the neighborhood of Hope Village, residents like Eric Hill are trying to participate in that progress but are running into hurdles. His difficulties were apparent on a recent Tuesday when he entered a crowded public library to use the computers to look for a new job. With no Internet service at home or on his mobile phone, Mr. Hill had few options to search work listings or file online job applications after losing his stocking job at a pharmacy five months ago…”

Home Energy Assistance Programs

Utility assistance falls short for those in poverty, By Dan Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock, May 15, 2016, Glenwood Springs Post Independent: “Families at low income levels pay more than they can afford for their home utility bills, and energy assistance programs designed to help make up the difference struggle to meet demand. As Lea Anne Shellberg knows, spring can be the most difficult time. Spring is when those power bills from the winter start piling up. A broken back and a recurring battle with skin cancer ended her career as an interior designer. When we first tried setting up an interview with her in mid-March, she was in trouble…”

Internet Access for Low-Income Families

This city is giving super-fast internet to poor students, By Heather Kelly, May 10, 2016, CNN Money: “Around 5 million homes with school-age children don’t have high speed internet, according to the Pew Research Center. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, 22.5% of residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 25,000 kids are on the public school system’s free and reduced lunch program. Chattanooga is trying to close its ‘homework gap’ with a pair of programs that help low-income families get online…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

  • Why Comcast is expanding its low-cost Internet program to public housing, By Max Lewontin, March 25, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Comcast is partnering with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to expand its “Internet Essentials” program to public housing residents in Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Seattle; and Philadelphia, the company announced on Thursday. The program, which costs $9.95 per month, offers low-income families high-speed Internet service up to 10 megabits per second, a free Wi-Fi router, access to free digital literacy training, and the option to purchase a computer for less than $150…”
  • Comcast expands low-cost Internet to all Miami-Dade public housing, By Nancy Dahlberg, March 24, 2016, Miami Herald: “Karisha Bailey is a self-employed chef who uses her smartphone constantly in her work. She’s also the single mom of four young children who need that same smartphone for their homework. Sharing the phone and keeping data charges manageable is a constant challenge. This week, Bailey became one of the first residents of the Rainbow Village public housing development to receive a free laptop and six months of complimentary high-speed Internet access. After that, her family will be able to continue on the program for $9.95 a month…” 

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

  • Bridging a digital divide that leaves schoolchildren behind, By Cecilia Kang, February 22, 2016, New York Times: “At 7 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, Isabella and Tony Ruiz were standing in their usual homework spot, on a crumbling sidewalk across the street from the elementary school nearest to their home. ‘I got it. I’m going to download,’ Isabella said to her brother Tony as they connected to the school’s wireless hot spot and watched her teacher’s math guide slowly appear on the cracked screen of the family smartphone. Isabella, 11, and Tony, 12, were outside the school because they have no Internet service at home — and connectivity is getting harder. With their mother, Maria, out of work for months and money coming only from their father, Isaias, who washes dishes, the family had cut back on almost everything, including their cellphone data plan. So every weeknight, the siblings stood outside the low-slung school, sometimes for hours, to complete homework for the sixth grade…”
  • F.C.C. fine-tunes plan to subsidize internet access, By Cecilia Kang, March 8, 2016, New York Times: “People who do not have regular access to the Internet can fall behind in school, at work and in other everyday tasks. The Federal Communications Commission is close to what it hopes will be a solution to address that gap: $9.25 a month. The agency on Tuesday will circulate a final proposal to F.C.C. members to approve a broadband subsidy of $9.25 a month for low-income households, in the government’s boldest effort to date to narrow a technological divide that has emerged between those who have web access and those who do not. While more than 95 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, just 48 percent of those making less than $25,000 can afford the service, the F.C.C.’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, has said…”

Public Benefit Program Application and Eligibility

How 10 text messages can help families find out if they qualify for food stamps, By Max Lewontin, February 16, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “A new texting-based system aims to simplify the process of applying for food stamps in Alaska, where 27 percent of people who are eligible for a common federal program that helps people buy food they need aren’t getting the benefits because they haven’t applied, state officials say.  Using text-based prompts, the system lets families see whether they would qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in a series of 10 text messages, compared with a 28-page application that they would ordinary have to fill out…”

Child Care Subsidies – Massachusetts

Computer woes delay child-care subsidies, By Stephanie Ebbert, November 20, 2015, Boston Globe: “About 1,600 low-income children remain stuck on a waiting list for subsidized child care because a computer system built by the state government has been beset by problems for four months.  The Department of Early Education and Care launched the new, $5.05-million system on July 1, despite concerns about its readiness raised by the child-care providers who rely on it to get paid…”

Phone Rates for Prison Inmates

FCC votes to further cut cost of calls for inmates, By Heather Hollingsworth (AP), October 22, 2015, Washington Post: “The Federal Communications Commission’s decision Thursday to take additional steps to slash how much can be charged for phone calls made from jails and prisons was hailed as removing a burden on families and criticized as a budget buster for some facilities.  FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said before the vote in Washington that the cost of the calls have placed ‘incredible burdens’ on the families of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S…”

Lifeline Program and Internet Access

The FCC wants to help America’s poorest pay for Internet, By Brian Fung, June 18, 2015, Washington Post: “Major upgrades are coming to a federal aid program that helps low-income Americans connect to basic communications services.  The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to consider how to allow eligible Americans to purchase Internet access using government funds, in a move that recognizes high-speed Internet as a key to pulling the poor out of poverty. The decision highlights the FCC’s fast-growing role in regulating broadband. In a 3-2 vote, the agency opened a process to expand its Lifeline program — a Reagan-era plan that gives $9.25 per month to Americans who meet income requirements or who already receive some form of federal assistance…”