CINCINNATI — Hannah Graessle spent the pandemic keeping her young children busy, and watching the checkbook at her Colerain Township home.
So she was stunned last fall when her Spectrum bill arrived, and was $10 a month more than the month before, during a time when every dollar counted.
It wasn't for TV service, however, but rather the high-speed internet her family depends on.
"We normally pay $49.99 and it went up to $59.99 for internet," she told us.
It turned out her one-year promotional deal had expired. Frustrating as it was, she could still afford it.
But thousands of Tri Staters either can't pay, or struggle to pay, that broadband bill, which is essential these days for Zoom classes, remote job interviews, and more.
There is good news, though. A new program could dramatically lower internet bills for some Cincinnati-area families. If you lost any work last year, or you meet federal low-income requirements, help may be coming from the federal government.
Spectrum's VP of Communications, Rich Ruggiero, told us that millions of Spectrum customers nationwide can now apply for internet assistance, thanks to the $3.2 billion dollar Emergency Broadband Benefit program (EBB). It was part of the March stimulus package passed by Congress.
"What it does is give eligible households a credit of $50 off qualifying broadband services in their household," Ruggiero said.
- Families who receive federal assistance, such as SNAP benefits.
- People who are not considered low income, but were unemployed part of last year.
If you fall into the unemployed in 2020 category, you can have earned up to $99,000 last year (or $198,000 as a couple) and still qualify for the benefit.
However, you have to prove you took a pandemic pay cut, and earned less in 2020 than in 2019.
Stephanie Donner -- unemployed and unable to afford her cable bill -- says it could be a huge help.
"Anything will help," she said. "Fifty dollars. That's money in your pocket."
How to apply for help
If you think you qualify, you will need to have some documents handy before you apply.
Since it is a federal government program, they will need you to upload a photo of your driver's license, as well as your 2019 and 2020 tax returns, to compare and check your income.
If you qualify, the federal government will send $50 each month directly to Spectrum or Cincinnati Bell, or another broadband internet provider. Click here for more details, including how long you may be eligible for the $50 payments.
Donner says it would be a huge help for doing Zoom job interviews.
"Without high-speed internet," she said, "I can't even apply for a job."
To apply, go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org.
But be patient: So many people are applying that the system was overloaded during its first weekend, and you may need to keep trying.
One possible downside: The program only helps with your internet bill, not your cable-TV bill.
If you were on a special promotion combining your TV and internet, you will have to separate the package, and you may discover your savings are not the full $50 you had expected.
As always, don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
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