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Alabama to Issue Internet Vouchers for Low-Income Students

The vouchers are part of a program called Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students, created with $100 million of federal coronavirus relief funds. The voucher will provide Internet service through Dec. 30.

by Trisha Powell Crain, Alabama Media Group / August 19, 2020
Shutterstock/asharkyu

(TNS) — Vouchers for internet services for Alabama families go out next week, but state officials ask if you are not eligible not to use the voucher.

The vouchers are part of a program called Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students, created by Gov. Kay Ivey with $100 million of federal coronavirus relief funds. The voucher will provide eligible families with internet service from participating providers through Dec. 30.

It’s an ambitious program and it’s being set up in a hurry. School has already started in many areas, and with more than 70% of students statewide expected to be learning online, state officials are casting a wide net in sending the vouchers.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the program and is sending letters with redeemable vouchers to students’ families from information submitted by schools to the Alabama State Department of Education, which then sent the list to ADECA.

The voucher will cover installation, equipment, and monthly service through Dec. 30.

The list contains names of all students who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school, but a program created in 2014 that allows schools or districts with a high percentage of students in poverty to serve free meals to all means some on the list might not meet the income eligibility requirements.

And state officials are counting on families to be on the honor system and not use the voucher if they don't meet the requirements.

“The letter will state that by using the voucher, families confirm that they meet the income requirements of the National School Lunch Program,” ADECA spokesperson Josh Carples wrote in an email to AL.com. “Families with incomes exceeding that limit will be instructed to destroy the voucher and not redeem it.”

That income limit, according to ADECA, is 185% of the federal poverty level, or $48,470 for a family of four. The chart below shows limits based on household size. For households beyond eight family members, add $8,828 for each additional member.

A website, abcstudents.org, contains information for families, schools, and internet providers.

ADECA Executive Director Kenneth Boswell said they received 40 responses from internet providers wanting to participate in the program. The minimum capability, according to information on the website, must be able to run “at least two simultaneous virtual classroom sessions, using such applications as Zoom or Google Classroom.”

Boswell said they expect to contract with about two dozen providers to provide internet services.

Families can use the voucher as payment for existing internet service.

Schools are alerting parents through social media, providing simple instructions for how to use the voucher when it arrives later this month.

Other school districts are reminding parents to make sure their correct address is on file with the school, and to call the school if they have questions about whether they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the trigger to have an internet voucher mailed to them.

Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey said the vouchers are expected to provide around $400 of internet service for 250,000 students. Alabama schools reported 327,000 students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the 2019-20 school year.

©2020 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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