Hennepin County Board OKs funds for more computers, financial aid to those in need

Hennepin County residents behind in the digital age can receive an educational and financial boost.

The Hennepin County Board on Tuesday approved $10 million in federal funds to expand initiatives aimed at eliminating the digital divide, according to a news release.

Funds come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, passed in March to speed up the nation's recovery from economic and health effects stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Funding will go toward the "Connecting Hennepin" program, which aims eliminate the digital divide.

"The COVID-19 pandemic magnified a longstanding gap between connected communities and areas that lack the infrastructure to participate in an increasingly digital world," according to the release. Expanding digital access is a top priority and for "a future where all residents are able to fully participate in the digital world, and have universal access to affordable broadband, personal technology and the digital skills to needed to thrive."

The program was first created in 2020 from CARES Act funds and allowed for qualifying households to get a discount of up to $50 per month or free for internet services.

Computers were also distributed and Hennepin County has "exhausted" its supply of computers, the county's website said.

So far, about 2,700 Chromebooks went to students who were distance learning and 5,800 laptops went to adults job seeking or seniors who used them for telehealth.

The new funding will go toward continuing that initiative as well as hiring staff to provide digital literacy support. The county will also work with service providers to address rural connectivity barriers and expand fiber-optic infrastructure.

"We believe digital equity is foundational for strong post-pandemic society," said Chela Guzmán-Wiegert, assistant county administrator for disparity reduction. "We intend to leverage all available resources to meet this need in our most impacted communities."

Alex Chhith • 612-673-4759