WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05), and Congressman Marc Veasey (TX-33) introduced Preventing Disruptions to Universal Services Funds Act to extend access to federal funds for telecommunications programs for three years, eliminating the need for a yearly fund recertification.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and laid bare the challenges faced by households without broadband access, and for isolated communities without sufficient internet connection. As schools transitioned to remote learning, many students were forced to seek internet access in their community, traveling to libraries, coffee shops, or even parking lots where they can find a signal to log in to their classes and do their homework.
“After 18 months of this pandemic, it is clear that access to the internet is essential. Yet burdensome, and outdated federal law puts access in jeopardy, threatening the funding for critical programs to make the internet accessible in high need schools and communities and those living in rural areas. From expanding telehealth to helping students learn, this fund should be something that communities can consistently count on, and not be impacted by unnecessary annual action by Congress,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “In April 2020, Pew Research Center reported 40 percent of children used public Wi-Fi to complete schoolwork due to lack of internet access. As schools reopen it has become clear just how important that access is – to ensure that kids remain connected. The Preventing Disruptions to Universal Services Funds Act will ensure that federal broadband programs remain active through the remainder of this crisis decreasing the digital divide and homework gap.”
“Many of my constituents in Texas’ 33rd district rely on critical programs funded by the Universal Service Fund (USF) – a service that low-income Americans and students depend on to access a consistent telephone and internet connection to help them live their daily lives,” said Congressman Veasey. “I am proud to join Rep. Hayes to introduce the Preventing Disruptions to Universal Service Funds Act because it ensures that this vital program will not be disrupted. We are in a pivotal time moving past the covid pandemic and Americans don’t need any more road blocks that will keep them from living and thriving in our communities.”
The Universal Service Fund helps to fund the following programs:
- The Schools and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate Program, provides needs based discounts to eligible schools and libraries for telecommunications services.
- The Rural Health Care Program, which helps reduce cost and ensure parity for rural health care providers’ internet services. This program helps make telehealth more accessible for patients.
- The Lifeline Program, which helps provides subsidies to reduce costs for qualified broadband consumers or households, like those accessing SNAP or housing assistance. Has of how it is funded. For the past several years, Congress has exempted the Fund from the Anti-Deficiency Act for the next year. This bill is simple, it would extend the exemption for 3 years just to make sure that there is no disruption to the funds going to these important initiatives.
The bill was created to ensure internet access for millions across the country is not disrupted by federal funding costs allowing for continuous access to available resources.
“The sustainability and stability of the Universal Service Fund (USF) is key to ensure high-quality and affordable telephone service and broadband access are available to low-income and rural Americans, rural health care facilities, and schools and libraries. On behalf of NTCA, I applaud Reps. Hayes and Veasey for introducing legislation to extend the USF Antideficiency Act exemption. For nearly two decades, Congress has acted to extend this exemption that was first put in place in 2004. Without an exemption, the Antideficiency Act threatens to have an unintended, but immediate crippling effect on the fund. This legislation to extend the exemption for multiple years takes necessary and needed steps so that USF can operate effectively and reliably,” said Shirley Bloomfield, chief executive officer of the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District. She was a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.