RD860 - Broadband Services Program for Households Currently Participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – November 1, 2021

Executive Summary:

This report is submitted pursuant to the 2021 Appropriations Act Item 359 L, requiring the Department of Social Services (DSS) to design a program to provide fixed reimbursement for broadband service costs for select households currently participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rate of reimbursement shall not exceed $15 a month and shall be a structured direct payment to a broadband provider who offers a low-cost broadband service for low-income households in Virginia. The Department sought and received input from the Commonwealth’s Chief Broadband Advisor for this report.

Families in Virginia face distinct challenges to accessing broadband services, including lack of physical infrastructure and affordability of high speed internet service. There are federal programs in place to help support access to broadband services, but the subsidy amount is too low for many families to afford the service. Congress created additional subsidies in the various COVID-19 relief packages, but it is anticipated that federal subsidies will be discontinued by the end of 2021.

Virginia can design a program to subsidize broadband connectivity for low-income Virginians either with or without significant ongoing state general funds by investing in capacity at the DSS to operate the federal broadband subsidy program on behalf of the federal government. This approach would improve access and increase enrollment among low-income Virginians.

The estimated one-time costs for program and Information Technology system development would be $3,394,000, with an ongoing need for three positions requiring $328,078 new dollars annually, to bring more than $130 million in federal benefits to Virginia households currently unable to afford broadband connectivity.