Deadline for applying for student internet fund extended


By John McPhaul

jpmcphaul@gmail.com


Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and Education Secretary Eligio Hernández Pérez announced Monday that the allocation of $90 million in federal funds are still available to subsidize the payment for internet to all students and teachers in the public education system, as the deadline for applying for the aid was extended until Dec. 30.


“We want all students and teachers in our public schools to be able to benefit from this aid, which covers the payment for the internet until May 31, 2021,” the governor said in a written statement. “There have been many challenges that we have had to face, especially in education, for which this is a great relief so that everyone can continue imparting and receiving distance education.”


Hernández Pérez announced that “[w]e have reached agreements with the agencies collaborating with the initiative and with the service providers so that those who, to date, have not done so, have until the end of December to benefit from the subsidy.”


“At the moment, there have been some 86,065 transactions with the 28 companies that signed up to offer the service in all areas of the island,” he said. “This represents about $28.5 million, so funds are still available. We urge families to apply as soon as possible.”


Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the entire student population of the island’s public system, which this year stands at 276,413 students, as well as 26,893 public school teachers, can apply for the subsidy of up to $400 with the 28 companies participating in the project. The government aid will cover the internet payment until May 31, 2021 and each applicant will choose the service of their preference, as long as they are enrolled in the program.


The Education chief specified that the teachers who qualify are those in the classroom, along with librarians, directors, social workers and professional counselors.


“Despite the efforts we make as a country, we see that the pandemic is showing dangerous increases,” Hernández Pérez said. “We have designed several plans for back to school in hybrid mode, but we remain vigilant to the behavior of the pandemic during these holidays. At Education, we seek alternatives that allow the instructional process to be available to all children and youth in Puerto Rico. This access to the internet, added to the distribution of computers and electronic equipment, will be a great step forward for all our school communities.”


The team from the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority led the effort to identify federal money, and Treasury Department staff implemented the electronic system for the qualification and disbursement of the aid. Education Department (DE) management, for its part, shared official enrollment data for the current school year, as well as information on teachers who qualify for federal aid.


Upon request, participants will go directly to the service providers included in the project and the sales representatives will validate the information. To pay for the service, mothers, fathers or guardians must have the student’s full name, student identification number, which appears on the student’s report card, and date of birth at hand. In addition, to facilitate the process with suppliers, the DE sent a student certification via email to parents and/or guardians so that document would be accepted at the internet service centers. Teachers will need to have available their employee number, photo ID, date of birth, place of employment, and the last four digits of their social security number.


The Treasury will disburse the money assigned directly to the supplier that each family or teacher has selected. Parents, guardians and DE staff will not have direct access to the funds for making monthly payments, but rather they will be deposited in the bank accounts that each company reports to the Treasury Department.


Among the program requirements, participants may not exceed $400 during the term established for the project. Costs in excess of the grant will be paid by the applicant.


In those families with more than one student, the subsidy may be used to increase service capacity. They will also be able to expand connectivity with the acquisition of wireless connectivity equipment (“hotspot”), depending on the inventory of the selected company.


The participating companies were chosen by the interagency working group, which ensured the greatest number of options to cover all municipalities, including the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra. The providers must be registered with the Treasury Department and the Telecommunications Bureau. In addition, the government requires monthly reports of the service they will offer.


The telecommunications companies will offer the service without credit verification and will keep records of the transactions through the Treasury Department’s financial systems.