New initiative to provide 20,000 free computers to Illinois families to help bridge digital divide during pandemic

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A new program aims to put computers in the hands of thousands of low-income residents across Illinois to help bridge the “digital divide” that has been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network announced Wednesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will soon begin distributing 20,000 devices.

The need is much greater than that, though, with an estimated 1.1 million Illinois households that don’t have a computer, according to U.S. Census data.

The network is based on a partnership with the national nonprofit PCs for People, which accepts donated devices and refurbishes them for families who need them more than ever, as the COVID-19 economy has made remote work, e-learning and telehealth parts of everyday life.

“In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking Illinois companies to join us in this effort, to help build on this initial down payment,” Pritzker said. “When your upgrade cycle gets renewed and your old technology no longer fits the needs of your company, you can donate it, and it will be upgraded for use by a family in need.”

The program started distributing devices earlier this fall in the downstate Metro East region, and a Cook County warehouse for statewide distribution is scheduled to open in January, thanks in part to $250,000 in seed funding from the Jewish United Fund.

Pritzker and Preckwinkle are calling on large companies and philanthropists to chip in, but individuals can donate used devices, too. PCs for People will provide “free certified and secure data wiping,” officials said.

To receive a device through the program, residents must have an income that is less than 200% of the federal poverty level, or be enrolled in an income-based government assistance program like Medicaid or SNAP.

For information on donating equipment or applying to receive it, visit illinois.gov/computerequitynetwork.

via Chicago Sun-Times

December 16, 2020 at 08:19PM

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