Lazone Grays, program instructor for IBSA, a nonprofit that provides training for employment, small businesses and youth development, has for years worked to bring attention to the issue of the digital divide. However, he says, it took a pandemic to help people better understand the issue.
When government organizations shuttered their doors, individuals needing assistance were left without a way to go online for help. Add in the mass movement of appointments and meetings to Zoom, and the impact of the divide became increasingly more evident.
“I didn't have a lot of people who really understood why I was talking about this issue for so long and so much, but COVID-19 really opened a door,” Grays said.
Under Kansas law, individuals receiving cash or food assistance are required to be participating in a job training program or actively looking for employment to remain eligible for their benefits. Grays was concerned that many of these individuals did not have Internet or computer access to complete the training or to look for and apply for jobs.
Grays, a long-time, active and vocal community activist, shared his concern with someone who was able to get him access to “top tier” officials within the Kansas Department of Children & Families (DCF). He was able to convince DCF of the need and the department agreed to help eligible Kansans receive unlimited, high-speed wireless Internet service and refurbished computers.
“So this sort of takes the burden off of, not just kids having internet at home, but parents who need to have internet at home too,” said Grays.
The program is free for families participating in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Generating Opportunities to Attain Lifelong Success (GOALS) and Food Assistance Employment & Training (FAET). Individuals who qualify for the free services and equipment should request it from their DCF career navigator.
While not free, other qualifying, low-income Kansans can apply for reduced price internet service. IBSA is now an approved DCF Employment Services vendor to provide affordable internet access to low-income Kansans.
IBSA provides the products in partnership with Bridging the Gap, a 20-year-old, national, non-profit that has provided more than 130,000 computers to non-profits and low-income Americans. The computers come with a one-year warranty and are shipped to the recipient free-of-charge and arrive in approximately 4-7 days. To order your computer or hot-spot, go online to https://ibsaconnect.pcsrefurbished.com
The products available on the site vary, based on availability. However, the site has had available 4G LTE Wi-fi modem, at a prices from $60 to $100. Internet services are $15 a month and can be purchased at one, three, six, and 12-month increments. Laptops start at $100 and desktops start at $75.
Be sure to have ready to upload at checkout:
• a valid photo ID
proof of eligibility, which could be:
• A SNAP statement
• Insurance card
• A statement of benefits from: Social Security, general assistance, Veteran’s Administration, retirement, pension or unemployment compensation
• Proof of TANF, WIC or Head Start
• Section 8 document
• Federal public housing document
• Low-income home energy assistance program statement
• Free or reduced lunch
• State, federal or tribal tax return. W2 forms are not accepted.