Page County receives CONNECT 2020 grant to pay individual internet fees

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By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Nov. 2 — At first, Liz Lewis wasn’t sure what the response would be to the latest program she’s rolling out to the community. Details were still being worked out, and Page County’s director of Economic Development and Tourism wanted to “trickle out” information about help with internet connectivity to test the waters.

Now, she knows for sure that a real need is going to soon be met.

“This program is on fire right now,” Lewis said on Monday afternoon. “I slowly rolled it out Thursday. We just put it on Facebook, and at the same time I reached out to the schools… and social services… now the word is getting out.

“We’ve received 20 [applications] in the last two hours,” Lewis said on Monday.

Lewis applied for and received $390,000 in Virginia CARES Act Fast-Track Broadband funding that will be used to help pay for internet services for residents of Page County through the local CONNECT Virginia 2020 program.

“I’m hoping to reach over 1,000 households,” Lewis said. “When schools surveyed and it showed something like 49 percent don’t have internet….. I thought those addresses should have internet, maybe they can’t afford it.”

The funds are part of the $30 million package that Governor Ralph Northam unveiled Oct. 7 in CARES Act funding to improve broadband access in underserved localities. As with all CARES Act allocations, the funds must be spent by the end of the year.

“Broadband is to today’s economy like electricity was generations ago — when you have it, you can get ahead,” said Governor Northam. “High-speed internet is essential for students to connect to education, business to connect to the wider world, and citizens to connect to work. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more clear, as so much of our lives have moved to virtual platforms. Since day one of our administration, we have made it a priority to increase access to broadband, and I am pleased that we can help more Virginians make those connections now, when they are needed most.”

According to the governor’s press release on the Fast-Track Broadband funding, “the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia estimates that 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students in Virginia lack access to broadband at home.”

The state program officially launched on Oct. 9 and began receiving applications from localities soon after. Lewis received news of Page County’s $390,000 share last week.

“Page County would like to keep you connected during this time of uncertainty by offering to help pay your internet connection for teleworking, participating in telemedicine and educating yourself and/or your children,” reads a flyer promoting the program. “To be eligible for the CONNECT 2020 program, an individual must participate in one of the following government benefit programs. Free or Reduced Lunch Program, SNAP, SSI, TANF, Food Assistance, Medicaid and others.”

Lewis said that how the payments will be dispersed may depend on the provider. Some may allow the county to pay one-year contracts up front, while others may send monthly bills to the county on behalf of the applicant.

“We’re still working that out,” Lewis said Monday.

An application to participate in CONNECT 2020, including a fillable online form, may be found at:

https://www.pagecounty.virginia.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2697/Page-County-Connect-2020-Form-fillable

Once completed, the form may be sent to county officials by:

  • Taking a photo and texting it to (540) 244-9235
  • Emailing it to [email protected]
  • Mail to – 103 South Court St., Luray, Va. 22835
  • Take it to your school office

Funds are limited and must be spent before December 25, 2020. Eligible accounts could be prepaid up to one year. Applicants must be able to show proof of assistance.

For questions and additional information, contact Lewis at the Page County Economic Development office at (540) 743-1216 or send an email to [email protected]

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UPDATE on the Food Hub…

After shutting down four weeks ago, the local Food Hub that helps provide meals for local families reopened on Monday and is once again taking applications.

To view an application, visit:

https://www.pagecountyliving.com/register-pop-up-food-hub

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