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Reconciliation, Infrastructure, and Adult Education

Reconciliation, Infrastructure, and Adult Education

August has been far busier than usual on the federal level this summer, due to the release of several plans from the White House and related budget development activities in Congress. If you are bewildered by the plethora of plans, budgets, and reconciliations, you are not alone. It’s important to understand what’s happening, though, because the time for advocacy is now.

Build Back Better Plans and Congressional Actions

The Administration’s Build Back Better agenda includes three plans:

In the second week of August, the Senate passed a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill and a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). Each is a broad-brush document that does not specify programs or funding levels for individual initiatives but could include aspects of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. Both are now under consideration in the House of Representatives, which will complete its work on the reconciliation package first, and then take up the infrastructure bill.

As the National Skills Coalition’s Katie Spiker notes,

Next month, members in both the House and Senate will be in daily discussions on which programs to include in the reconciliation package and how much to spend on each one. By as early as September 15th, the House will pass a reconciliation package and send it over to the Senate. The Senate will make changes and – optimistically – Senators want to pass their version of reconciliation by the end of October. At that point both chambers will either conference to iron out differences or the House will pass the Senate version of the bill.

The critical question is, will the final reconciliation package, now known as the Build Back Better Act, include the provisions that adult education and family literacy advocates are hoping for? Time—and advocacy—will tell.

Advocacy Timeline and Contacts: Reconciliation

Activities and funding levels for adult education, family literacy, workforce skills, and related initiatives will be determined during the markup process in the relevant committees on each side of the Capitol: the Senate HELP Committee and the House Education & Labor Committee. Each of these committees has many different priorities to which they must allocate funding, so advocacy is essential to ensure that Members of Congress are aware of the broad base of support for adult education.

The House Education & Labor Committee is expected to mark up its portion of the budget reconciliation bill next Thursday, Sept. 9, so immediate advocacy with Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC-05), and other members of that committee is crucial.

Key Advocacy Points

Here are five key advocacy points.

Point 1. $100 billion for skills training

What it is: Various organizations in the workforce development arena have been advocating for this amount to be included in COVID-19 recovery funding since early spring, and the White House included it in the description of the American Jobs Plan, which refers to $100 billion for workforce skills development, including “expanded career services and the Title II adult literacy program.”

What to say: Stress that a $100 billion investment in skills training is critical for workers who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. This amount is needed to strengthen training and support that will give workers in-demand skills and the resilience to respond to changes in the workplace.

Useful resources: 10-minute video explanation of the current situation with budget reconciliation; Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery by NSC staff

Point 2. $1 billion for adult education capacity building

What it is: Various adult education organizations, particularly COABE, have been advocating for this amount since the spring as part of COVID-19 relief funding. It would be a one-time infusion of money to support expansion of adult ed capacity, beyond the regular annual appropriation for AEFLA. (Note that the President included $100 million in mandatory funding through the American Jobs Plan, in addition to regular funding for AEFLA, in his budget request.)

What to say: The Survey of Adult Skills shows that 43 million U.S. adults need to develop the basic literacy, numeracy, and digital skills that allow for full participation in community and the workplace. However, current program capacity only serves a tiny fraction of those. This funding will expand program capacity so that more adults are able to pursue and achieve their educational goals.  

Useful resources: COABE’s Educate & Elevate advocacy materials and Take Action options; ProLiteracy’s Advocacy Toolkit

Point 3. Increased Pell grant funding

What it is: The American Families Plan includes $85 billion for the Pell Grant program, increasing the maximum grant by $1,400.

What to say: Pell grants are a major source of financial aid for low-income university students, but they cover only part of the cost. Increasing the grant amount will reduce the debt load that these students must take on, thus increasing retention and completion rates.

Point 4. Public library construction and renovation

What it is: The Build America’s Libraries Act, introduced in the Senate in January and the House in March, would fund upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure. It acknowledges the essential role that public libraries play in providing adult education and family literacy services and support.

What to say: Including the Build America’s Libraries Act in the reconciliation package would enable libraries to address challenges such as natural disasters, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. It would pave the way for new and improved library facilities in underserved communities across the country.

Useful resources: American Library Association Build America’s Libraries Act webpage and Take Action tool; Roll Call op-ed We can’t build back better without libraries

Point 5. Digital equity

What it is: The Digital Equity Act would provide digital skills training and increase online access for low-income populations. This Act is included in the Senate infrastructure bill, which also includes substantial funding for broadband grants to states and an extension of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

What to say: Broadband access is essential for full participation in society, including for education, health care, and financial well-being. The Digital Equity Act and infrastructure funding will extend this critical connectivity tool to the underserved communities that need it most.

Useful resources: National Digital Inclusion Alliance information page; Digital Equity Act webpage

Bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021 Introduced Today in the Senate

Bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021 Introduced Today in the Senate

This morning Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are introducing a bill that promotes a five-year federal investment in digital equity.

The Digital Equity Act of 2021 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by establishing two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:

  • Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State.
  • Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.
  • Supporting Research and Evidence-Based Policymaking: The legislation tasks NTIA with evaluating digital inclusion projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

Read an article on the legislation by @DavidIngram on @NBCNews.

Senator Murray first introduced the Digital Equity Act in 2019 to help improve broadband adoption and bridge the digital divide. During the 2020 election, this bill was included in then-candidate Biden’s broadband platform. Earlier this year, President Biden also unveiled his American Jobs Plan, which includes a $100 billion investment to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage, promote transparency and competition, reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption. Senators Murray and Portman will be advocating for key provisions of the bipartisan Digital Equity Act to be included in any forthcoming infrastructure package.

#DigitalEquityNow

A Giant Step for Digital Equity

A Giant Step for Digital Equity

Today Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Gary Peters (D-MI) have introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019.

The NCL is proud to endorse this legislation, which was developed by Senator Murray’s office with input and support from the NCL and numerous other organizations working for equal access for all. It defines “digital equity” and “digital inclusion” for the first time in statute, with a focus on enabling full participation in society and the economy. It specifically references underserved and overlooked populations, particularly adults who seek to develop their literacy, numeracy, and digital skills but lack access for geographic, economic, and other reasons.

The Act establishes two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:

  • Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State.
  • Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.

The Act also promotes research and evidence-based policymaking. It tasks NTIA with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 has the potential to help millions of Americans gain the digital tools they need to thrive. Feel free to share this post with your networks. Graphics for Facebook, Instagram (including stories), and Twitter, along with GIFs and a short video, can be found here. Learn more from Senator Murray’s new Medium Post “Why We Need the Digital Equity Act” here.

Call your U.S. Senators today and tell them it’s time for #DigitalEquityNow! It’s time to close the digital divide and focus on making sure communities with broadband access have the skills and knowledge to take full advantage of all the internet has to offer.

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