By Caleb Hampton McNaughton Media Open enrollment began this week for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a new federal program meant to help Americans pay their internet bills. The $3.2 billion program was created as part of the omnibus appropriations bill that was passed alongside a pandemic relief package in December. “The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a groundbreaking new program that will help Americans afford their monthly internet bill,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Thursday in a press release highlighting the program. Eligible constituents can enroll in the EBB Program to receive a discount on their monthly internet bill. The program provides qualifying families a discount of up to $50 per month, or $75 per month on tribal lands, towards the cost of home internet service. It may also provide additional subsidies on the cost of a computer. The program was created to help people impacted by the pandemic financially and to address the digital divide, which gained heightened attention when many people began working and going to school from home. “From virtual classrooms to telehealth visits, the pandemic has made access to reliable, high-speed internet more important than ever,” Garamendi said. “In this day and age, internet service is a necessity, not a luxury, and ensuring that every family has the ability to telework and stay connected begins with ensuring every family can afford it.” The congressman urged constituents to take advantage of the program. “I encourage anyone who may be struggling right now to see if they qualify for this new program, and then sign up by contacting their internet provider,” he said. “I will continue to work hard in Congress to expand internet access and improve affordability so that every household, regardless of zip code, has reliable, high-speed service.” A household is eligible for discounted internet through the new EBB Program if their income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, if they participate in assistance programs including SNAP, Medicaid or Lifeline, if their children are already approved to receive benefits through the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, if they received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year or if the household experienced a substantial loss of income during the pandemic. The household only needs to meet one of those criteria to qualify for EBB Program benefits. “This is truly an historic day for our State and a bold proposal to address the gap in access to reliable and affordable internet for all Californians,” Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry said in a press release on Thursday applauding Governor Newsom’s investment in generational change. “People across our state, especially in small towns and rural areas like those in my district, have struggled to take advantage of the digital economy. The pandemic has made painfully obvious that a lack of connectivity prevents access to equitable opportunities for our people – education and job training, telehealth, small businesses’ expanding to online consumers.” People interested in learning whether they qualify are encouraged to visit the Federal Communication Commission’s enrollment website – https://getemergencybroadband.org/ – and then sign up for the program through their internet service provider. Internet providers participating in the program can apply to the FCC for reimbursement. *Crystal Apilado contributed to this article.