Author's Note: It's likely you know someone who could benefit from the Affordable Connectivity Program; it may even be you. You can learn more about how to qualify here.

Today, it seems like the word connection has much more depth. This gives me hope that connection will be recognized as an essential basic necessity in person or online. Thanks to the pandemic, connection in all its forms was laid bare as a human need. Arguably, digital connection has become the most vital. Digital access has become required to connect with crucial resources that have shifted to an online format. Health information, education, and employment opportunities are increasingly offered online instead of in person. This makes digital access necessary for asset-limited families and communities, and it's more important than ever to participate fully in modern society.

The good news is the federal government has recognized the depth and importance of digital connection and, in response, created the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This program helps connect families and households struggling to afford internet service by providing eligible households with up to $30 a month off their internet bill. For asset-limited families, $30 is a game changer. To optimize and amplify the ACP's impact, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) has initiated an endeavor to close the gap between eligibility and enrollment to ensure those eligible for ACP are enrolled to take advantage of this benefit. But what does this mean?

Currently, in our four-county region, there are over 36,000 households enrolled in the ACP. However, thanks to qualifying data, we know that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of households are eligible but still need to enroll. For example, in Sarasota County, 15,061 students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, automatically making their household eligible for ACP. Yet, currently, only 8,425 households in Sarasota County are enrolled, and that's just one possible way to qualify.

The need to connect is all around us. To reach those who would benefit from ACP, TPF's approach is working with people, businesses, nonprofits, government, and the media to catalyze efforts to close this enrollment gap. TPF's Digital Access for All, Aspirations to Actions, and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiatives leverage resources and human power to find innovative ways to connect with community members to generate awareness and increase ACP enrollment. We currently have 18 trained ACP engagers to connect with the community at local events and help individuals and families determine if they qualify. If they do, we connect them with a Digital Navigator who sets up an appointment to help them apply for the program, as the application process can be lengthy and complicated.

By the end of July, we had connected with 34 households and handed out over 700 flyers in English and Spanish. More events are happening in the coming months, and we will continue to track our data to know where the gap is closing and where we may need more needle and thread to close the gap.

What drives me to be a part of closing the gap is the fact that it takes human connection to access online connections. Our ACP engagers are connecting with real people in the community and having conversations with them about internet access. Individuals and families have been sharing what it would mean to them to save $30 a month on the internet or that, with ACP, they could finally get internet in their homes. The ACP may not know it, but this is our opportunity to create affordable connection realities and transformational human connections along the way.

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