A federal program called a ‘lifeline’ for some Minnesotans could be coming to an end
For Kristine Maassen, her cell phone is a lifeline.
“Without this, basically, my life stops,” she declares. “This is my link to everything, from housing to EBT (state welfare benefits) to general assistance.”
Maassen, who’s been without shelter for more than a year, is visiting Catholic Charities’ St. Paul Opportunity Center.
Her phone is always nearby.
“Without this, I have no way to call someone in an emergency, have no way to reach my family,” Maassen says.
She’s one of an estimated 250,000 Minnesota customers receiving free or discounted phone and internet service through the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, administered by the FCC.
ACP is designed to help low-income families and people experiencing homelessness.
“For our clients, it is literally the only access they have to services that are going to impact their life,” explains Tatyana Finklea, the division director of Adult Emergency Services for Catholic Charities Twin Cities.
But now the government says funding for ADC, $14 billion nationwide, will dry up by April unless Congress approves more money for the program.
Catholic Charities Twin Cities says hundreds of its guests who currently have ADC phones will likely only have a few months of data service before being cut off.
“When you are unsheltered, this is the only way to stay connected to your service provider,” Finklea notes. “If you are on a list for housing, you need a phone to receive that phone call to know you’ve been called for housing.”
Edroy Berry has lived in the metro for 15 years. For four of those years, he’s been without shelter.
Berry says he previously had a phone, but not now.
“We’re starting from ground zero, trying to get our lives back,” he says. “So, it’s important I have a phone so that I can get a job, connect with those prospective (employers), and with housing.”
Mark Erpelding is with Open Access Connections, a St. Paul non-profit that partners with ACP to provide free phones for those in need.
He’s concerned there will be difficult times ahead.
“It means their lives are just going to grind to a halt,” Erpelding says. “We’re working with very high-risk, high-mobile, in-crisis individuals. They simply don’t have the money for the device.”
Maassen, who’s had her ACP phone since 2021, says without it she’s not sure what she’s going to do.
“I’m crushed, quite honestly,” she explains. “This would be very bad.”
Asked what she’d like to tell Congress, Maassen says, “Give me your phone if you’re going to cut mine. I want yours.”
Erpelding says he’s reaching out to clients, encouraging them to contact Congress to keep the program going.
“When you think of your ability to conduct a job search, a housing search, or keep in touch with your medical professional,” he says. “It’s really difficult if not impossible to do those tasks effectively without something as simple as a phone or an internet connection.”
Finklea says it’s now a waiting game until any final decision is made about whether to keep the ACP program going.
“If we’re going to address homelessness, we need to be able to stay connected with service providers that can continue to help and support them with the barriers to homelessness,” she says.