NMI households can apply for $3.2B broadband aid program


Beginning Wednesday, May 12, eligible Marianas households can apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which will provide recipients a discount up to $50 on internet service and a $100 subsidy to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.

Also, the CNMI will get an estimated $9 million more in the second round of Emergency Rental Assistance Program, according to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in his e-kilili newsletter over the weekend.

Sablan said the Federal Communications Commission announced last Saturday that it will start accepting applications for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on May 12. The program will end when funding runs out or six months after the declared end of the pandemic emergency.

“The program helps those struggling with income loss or reduction due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other low-income households,” Sablan said.

Participating providers in the CNMI are Docomo Pacific and IT&E.

A household is eligible if a member qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program, is a Pell grant or Lifeline recipient, was recently laid off or furloughed, or qualifies for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 discount program.

Sablan said U.S. Congress created the $3.2-billion program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 to provide recipients discounts on internet service and subsidized purchase of a laptop, a desktop, or tablet.

On rental assistance, Sablan said that Congress provided $21.6 billion to continue the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERA, in the American Rescue Plan; it includes $305 million that’s set aside for the territories. Sablan said the CNMI is estimated to receive $9 million from that.

He said new policies will also take effect, including requiring state and local programs to provide assistance directly to renters if landlords refuse to accept ERA payments, and requiring programs to prohibit eviction for nonpayment of rent for the months covered by the program.

The delegate said the Biden-Harris administration also strengthened guidance discouraging programs from establishing documentation requirements that would likely create barriers to participation.

The CNMI had already received $10.4 million in ERA money.

Last March, Office of Grants Management administrator Epiphanio Cabrera Jr. said that, despite such a large amount of available funding, they have received only 700 applicants so far at the time.

Cabrera said that, based on their calculation, the ERA program in the CNMI can hold up to 1,500 clients a month.

The program aims to reduce evictions and to keep CNMI citizens in stable homes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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