United Way Launches 3-Year Digital Equity Partnership

In a press conference today, United Way California Capital Region launched its three-year digital equity partnership with the City of Sacramento, SMUD, City of Rancho Cordova and community nonprofits to close the local digital divide – unequal technology and internet access – that has expanded during the pandemic. Building on its pilot project with the City of Sacramento in fall 2020, United Way and its partners are working to address the issue of digital equity long-term both inside and beyond the city limits.

“The digital divide is not new, but it has expanded rapidly with the pandemic when so many parents began working from home and kids began learning remotely,” said Amber Lovett, interim president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “We need to address this issue immediately, and we need to be looking at how we can continue working toward digital equity long after the pandemic ends. This program is doing exactly that, and we are grateful to have so many community partners who recognize that this is a systemic issue and critical for achieving equity across the region.”

United Way is partnering with select community-based nonprofits to identify and triage households eligible for broadband assistance, computers and devices, and basic digital literacy. These selected nonprofits will work with digital champions – community residents with technological skills who speak multiple languages – to provide outreach and case management in targeted geographic areas. Other partners, including local school districts, will provide outreach and referrals. Community hub partners, such as social service providers, will provide outreach, direct assistance and basic digital literacy and will work with the digital champions.

“Closing the digital divide is crucial to ensuring that everyone in our region can access educational and economic opportunity,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “I’m proud that as a city, we have invested nearly $200 million over the past three years directly in community programs like these, working with dedicated partners like United Way, SMUD and our many nonprofits that work tirelessly to make Sacramento a more equitable place.”

With more than 24 million unconnected households nationwide, the digital divide disproportionately affects minority and low-income populations. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 35 percent of adults who do not use broadband at home are older, poorer, less educated, more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority, and more likely to have a disability than those with a home connection. In Sacramento, there are neighborhoods where 25 percent of households have no internet access.

“SMUD’s goal is to improve the lives of our customers, and we’re doing that through innovative partnerships that serve those in greatest need,” said SMUD Director Gregg Fishman. “Our Sustainable Communities program is working throughout the region to provide equity and access to under-resourced communities so everyone has the same opportunity to thrive. Closing the digital divide will play a key role in uplifting our community.”

Eligible households can complete an initial screening application, and once approved, will be considered for a variety of services, including internet access for up to 2,000 households a year, refurbished desktop computers for up to 500 people per year and digital literacy training through online resources and classes. Through the program, households will receive a year of free internet access either through Comcast Digital Essential Services’ broadband or through an AT&T hot spot, with priority given to low-income households with children and senior citizens. Those in need of digital literacy will receive a list of online sites or may be referred to partner nonprofits with access to virtual or in-person classes. The program’s digital champions will provide basic digital literacy support including web forms, email set-up, internet research and access to resources. For eligibility requirements: YourLocalUnitedWay.org/Digital or 211.

Over the course of three months in fall 2020, United Way’s pilot program with the City of Sacramento, which was spearheaded by Sacramento City Councilmember Angelique Ashby, distributed 949 laptops and 266 hotspots and trained 115 participants, creating the foundation for the broader partnership.

“Bridging the digital divide is a moral imperative,” said Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby. “Championing this effort during the pandemic has been an honor and has created a path forward to continuing the work of connecting our neighborhoods to affordable, fast, reliable access to the internet.”

The program is funded through City of Sacramento, SMUD, City of Rancho Cordova and United Way California Capital Region. The portion of funding from United Way comes from the $10 million gift it received from renowned philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in December 2020.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. With a mission to build stronger, healthier and more compassionate communities, the local United Way starts at square one: helping every family succeed so their community can too. Serving Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties, the local United Way is working to meet its 20-year commitment to significantly reduce poverty in the region by building capacity in undervalued communities, creating meaningful partnerships, seeking equity in education and making social justice investments in families. For more information or to make a donation, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

As the nation’s sixth-largest, community-owned, not-for-profit electric service provider, SMUD has been providing low-cost, reliable electricity for almost 75 years to Sacramento County and small adjoining portions of Placer and Yolo counties. SMUD is a recognized industry leader and award winner for its innovative energy efficiency programs, renewable power technologies and sustainable solutions for a healthier environment. SMUD’s power mix is about 50 percent non-carbon emitting. For more information, visit SMUD.org.