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Internet subsidy used by millions of vets, troops set to expire in May

Government leaders are warning that a federal subsidy helping millions of veterans and military families pay for internet access will end in the next few weeks unless Congress extends the program before the start of May.

The Affordable Connectivity Program currently provides between $30 and $75 a month to cover internet bills of more than 23 million households across the country, about half of whom are veterans and service members. For some participants, that’s enough to cover the full cost of high-speed internet access at their homes.

The program was launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help homebound individuals stay connected despite quarantine restrictions. Lawmakers have already approved more than $17 billion for the effort over the last four years, but that money runs out next month.

The FCC began sending warnings to participants about the end of the program earlier this year. On Tuesday, leaders from the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Veterans Affairs stumped for the continuation of the initiative, calling it a critical resource for many families.

“Internet access is critical to help veterans participate in school, do their jobs, and stay connected to family,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters.

“But it also means access to health care. Millions of vets we serve use telehealth for their medical care. … Those veterans couldn’t have access to the life-saving care they deserve if they don’t have an internet connection.”

Administration officials have been lobbying for the program since last fall, asking for Congress to approve about $6 billion in new funding. The proposal has received broad bipartisan support but has stalled in the House and Senate amid other legislative fights.

“This is a critical program,” Federal Communications Commission head Geoffrey Starks said. “It is the most effective program that we’ve ever had in helping low-income and vulnerable Americans get online and stay online.”

Neither House nor Senate leaders have scheduled a vote on renewal of the program. Both chambers are scheduled to break for a week starting April 19.

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