Data Sharing is Strengthening the Affordable Connectivity Program

By: Ryan Skukowski, Associate Director of Broadband Access

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is pleased to participate in the national Online for All Week of Action - a partnership between Civic Nation and the U.S. Department of Education - to raise awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and highlight the ways in which it has benefited people. The ACP provides eligible households with a discount of up to $30 a month on their internet bill (and up to $75 a month for households on Tribal lands), making internet free for many ACP recipients as leading internet providers have agreed to offer plans for $30 or less. Individuals automatically qualify for the ACP if they already participate in another federal program, such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or received a Pell Grant.

We know that many people are making hard financial decisions each day, and programs like the ACP can provide support to ease their financial burden. As BDT recently highlighted in our Benefits Access Toolkit for Higher Education, millions of Pell Grant recipients are eligible for the ACP but have not yet applied. Our research shows that combining a Pell Grant with other assistance (like the ACP benefit) can provide tens of thousands of dollars more to a student’s overall financial support.

Public benefits can help students succeed in college: combining a Pell Grant with other assistance can double a student's financial support for college

This is why BDT is excited that the National Verifier – the ACP's application system – is newly connected with the U.S. Department of Education to automatically verify the eligibility of Pell Grant recipients who apply for the ACP. As of May 2023, Pell Grant recipients who are in a current award year no longer need to submit eligibility documents (such as benefit portal snapshots, financial aid letters, or paid invoices) to the National Verifier for manual review.

Yet, beyond Pell Grant recipients, approximately 60 percent of eligible households nationwide have not yet signed up. BDT continues to champion secure data sharing as an opportunity to further streamline access, as shared by BDT’s CEO Trooper Sanders last year.

Data connections across key federal agencies (as required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) are a way to not only streamline the application and verification process and reduce errors, administrative costs, and fraud, but also to notify eligible households that they qualify for the ACP – as the U.S. Department of Education plans to do, announcing last week that they will notify more than five million Pell Grant recipients of their eligibility for the program and that they can enroll without eligibility documentation.

This latest database connection between the U.S. Department of Education and the National Verifier demonstrates how federal entities can work together to close the benefits access gap – and how a small action can yield a large impact on closing the nation’s digital divide.

Learn more about the launch of our multi-year effort to promote ACP participation, funded with philanthropic support from Comcast NBCUniversal.