Otis Announces Assembly Passage of $15M Statewide Digital Inclusion Grant Program

New statewide grant program aims to meet the needs of underserved populations in digital access through connectivity, devices and training

Assembly Science and Technology Committee Chair Steve Otis (D-Rye), announced today that his proposal to establish a new statewide $15 million Digital Inclusion Grant program was included in the State Assembly’s one house budget resolution passed on Monday. The program will help local groups provide disadvantaged individuals and households the key elements necessary to provide up-to-date digital capability: home connectivity, devices, and the needed skills, training and technical support.

Assemblyman Steve Otis said, “This Digital Inclusion Grant Program will address digital inequities by providing funding for local programs to deliver access, devices and training to underserved individuals. The digital inclusion model empowers those who have been deprived the access needed for learning, health care and employment.”

Meg Kaufer, President of the Mamaroneck STEM Alliance said, “The digital divide is a complex problem that was revealed by the rapid transition to online learning due to the pandemic. This complex problem has a simple solution: computing devices and internet access combined with tech education for those experiencing digital distress. The STEM Alliance's Digital Equity Now program has been providing this three-part intervention in Westchester County since last year, but more funding is needed to meet the demand. We applaud the Assembly for focusing on these critical local initiatives that are helping to connect underserved populations to the internet for access to learning, social services, Telehealth, job search portals, job training and more. The time is now for all NY residents to be fully engaged in our digitally driven world.”

Angela Siefer, Executive Director National Digital Inclusion Alliance said, “The pandemic has brought into focus everyone’s essential need for affordable robust broadband, the right device for their needs, digital literacy skills and tech support. The concept of Digital Navigators developed organically in communities across the country as a means of providing guidance to our most vulnerable communities members, helping them reach all of these components of digital equity. NDIA celebrates the NY State Digital Inclusion Grant Program actively addressing the digital guidance that is essential today.”

Terry Kirchner, Executive Director of the Westchester Library System said, “I'm excited to see this move forward. Digital inclusion is an essential human right that provides everyone with access to the information, services and support that they need to live their life to the fullest.”

Minister Mark McLean, President of the NAACP New Rochelle Branch said, “A quality education is the key that unlocks the power of the American dream for all children. For far too long there has exist a resource gap that has produced an achievement gap for students that have access to great resources and those who do not. In the digital age it is vitally important that all students have the ability to access the internet. The statewide 15 million Digital Inclusion Grant Program will ensure that internet access for all students can be a reality in our great state of New York. I want to thank Assemblyman Steve Otis for his vision in leading the fight to have this very important and necessary proposal included In the State Budget.”

Anne Bradner, Chief Executive Officer at the Carver Center said, “Port Chester Carver Center applauds the efforts of the New York State Assembly to support digital inclusion programs. Digital Equity ensures that children from lower-income communities like Port Chester will not lag behind their wealthier peers in education and digital literacy. Ensuring equal access to appropriate technology and training will ultimately improve our economy and give all children a chance to fulfill the American Dream. Carver Center is proud to have created a Virtual Afterschool Program during the pandemic that increases digital literacy and academic preparedness for Port Chester elementary school children.”

Tom Kissner, President of the Port Chester-Rye NAACP said, “Even before the current COVID crisis, there was a need for Digital Equity in order for all students to keep up with the benefits of modern technology for their participation in a modern technology-oriented world. Now, with the remote learning often necessitated by quarantine or enforced isolation to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the need for students to have access to technological communication devices, as well as access to the internet, is more urgent than ever. The Port Chester-Rye branch of the NAACP wholeheartedly endorses this effort to provide that access.

Karen Belanger, Executive Director of the Westchester-Putnam SBA said, “All students and families need access to home and school broadband, devices and training to support learning and work in the digital age. As the pandemic has highlighted the educational inequities of the digital divide, the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association applauds programs that ensure all families have affordable digital access and the knowledge to use digital tools.”

The statewide grant program would be administered by the NYS Department of Education in consultation with the Office of the Aging and the Department of Labor. Grants would be available on an application basis to not-for-profits, schools, libraries, local governments, municipal housing authorities and other community organizations seeking to provide digital equity programs.

Digital Inclusion programs, also referred to as Digital Equity or Digital Navigator programs, are the model used throughout the country to address existing disparities in digital access because of

cost, race and age. Local efforts at digital inclusion programs exist in parts of the state, and NYS SED recently held two statewide Digital Equity Summits to focus on the importance of digital inclusion for education, workforce development and accessing health care.

Many groups have been on the front lines of opposing the digital divide in Westchester and have been working on providing digital training and technology to disadvantaged households. Their voices in support for state support for digital inclusion programs is important as we approach adoption of the final budget.