Grant Will Enable Waukegan Area Residents to Get Affordable Internet Access and Electronic Devices – Chicago Tribune

One of the hurdles to giving disadvantaged people affordable Internet access is about to be made less difficult by ConnectWaukegan and one of its community partners, the Waukegan Public Library.

After receiving a $360,000 grant last year to get 450 electronic devices through the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure law of 2021, the library and ConnectWaukegan are working together to get them into the hands of qualified individuals.

While ConnectWaukegan helps people get online, helping those people get an electronic device to navigate through cyberspace is a separate challenge, said Elizabeth Ramirez, the organization’s digital navigator.

Ramirez said few people in the area can use the $100 credit provided by the Affordable Connection Program (ACP) to purchase a device, even though they qualify to receive low-cost or possibly free internet service. They are entitled to a $30 monthly credit by law.

“This is a big step,” Ramirez said. “Affordable service is a big part, but that goes beyond that. If they need a device, they have to buy it from their internet provider to use the $100 credit. Most of the people we help use AT&T or Xfinity, and they don’t accept credit for that.”

ConnectWaukegan has regular office hours at the Waukegan Public Library to help people get online.

New ACP participants in Waukegan can now receive one of the free devices after working with a ConnectWaukegan representative to contract out access to the Internet to help them with education, healthcare, job search, or a variety of other uses.

The hardware mix includes 150 Chromebooks, 150 tablets and 150 laptops, which are being prepared for use by the library’s technology staff, said Tiffany Verzani, executive director of the library. And you expect that they will be ready in the next few weeks.

Verzani said the library will hold 60 for library card holders to check out for three weeks. They can also take one of the library’s hotspots home to access the Internet. The rest of the computers will be distributed through ConnectWaukegan.

“This is an amazing opportunity to support one of our agency partners to provide the community with these devices,” said Verzani. “This will help support our education department to provide support to the community.”

Isaac Salgado, the library’s director of information technology, said his department is preparing 60 devices that the library will loan so people can start checking them out. Unlike books, films, and other items that the library borrows, Verzani said the age of the borrower of the device must be at least 18 years old.

Those who wish to take advantage of the ACP, with or without the free device, can start by visiting Ramirez or other ConnectWaukegan employees during the regular hours they keep at the library. They can see if they qualify, and how to become involved.

Ramirez said that anyone who receives some form of government assistance — such as Medicaid, Social Security through disability, and food assistance; Or has a student on the Free School Lunch Program, or less than 200% of the federal poverty line—could qualify. All families in Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 are on the Free Lunch Program.

An individual earning less than $27,180 per year, a married couple earning less than $36,626 per year or a family of four with an annual income of $55,500 qualifies. Ramirez starts by talking to each person to get them comfortable with the process. It also allows them to see how access can help in their daily lives.

“We will assess their needs for the device through ACP,” she said. “We will complete the ACP application, find the provider of their choice. We will help them through the whole process, and help them connect with the provider.”

While Ramirez said she doesn’t know right now if 390 devices will be enough to meet the community’s needs, ConnectWaukegan will evaluate the program as it develops and decide what else might need to be done.

ConnectWaukegan has a representative in the library from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. on Mondays. A person from the organization is also present on Wednesdays from 10 am to noon and on Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm

Verzani said the library also offers free lessons to help people develop their digital skills.

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