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Rural Communities In The Hudson Valley Have Been Left Behind During Pandemic Move To Online School, Work, And Events; American Rescue Plan Includes State & Local Aid That Can Be Used For Broadband Infrastructure In Sullivan, Ulster, & Orange Counties 

Senator Says American Rescue Plan Will Become Basis For Strong Recovery In Mid-Hudson Valley, Help Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange Counties Thrive With Millions For State & Local Aid, Rental Assistance, Pension Relief, Restaurants, Independent Live Venues, And Historic Child Tax Credit Expansion

Schumer: ARP To Help Hudson Valley Counties Eliminate Digital Divide

Standing at Emma C Chase Elementary School in Wurtsboro, New York, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer yesterday announced that ‘help is on the way’ as he detailed specifics from the American Rescue Plan he led to passage in the U.S. Senate. Schumer explained that the state and local aid provisions he championed include language that will allow Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange County localities to utilize some of the funding allotted to them to provide high-speed internet to residents, students, and businesses.

The senator noted that during the pandemic, there has been an increasing dependence on the internet for many vital functions, including school, work, telehealth, community events, job applications, social interaction, and more. Without affordable, reliable high-speed internet access, Hudson Valley residents and businesses have been unable to participate in these activities, further isolating them from their communities. Particularly, Schumer pointed out, lack of internet access has hit some New Yorkers harder than others, with a disproportionate number of children who lack high-speed internet coming from low-income households and rural areas.

Schumer further explained that, as many Mid-Hudson school districts shifted classes to online instruction at home during the pandemic, new challenges emerged surrounding the “Homework Gap,” a term used to describe the divide between Hudson Valley students that have access to adequate broadband at home and those who do not. The senator pointed to the Monticello Central School District’s March 2020 Digital Equity Survey as an example, which found that approximately 103 students and 25 teachers lacked access to a device at home and approximately 104 students and 10 teachers lacked sufficient internet access at home. A cellular audit also revealed that in many areas, like Wurtsboro Hills, Forestburgh, and the outskirts of Bethel, there were “dead zones” without cell or internet services. Schumer said that this is just one example of the inequities in technology and internet access that exist in the Hudson Valley. 

“This pandemic has made high-speed internet access a necessity, not a luxury, and shown that the digital divide is all too wide in our Hudson Valley communities, with internet access needed for everything from school, to work, to virtual doctor’s appointments,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I made sure this relief bill was quick to make the connection – flexible state and local dollars that could be used for everything from budget deficits to broadband infrastructure on top of dedicated relief to help schools and libraries ensure that our schoolchildren can fully participate in remote learning. We are dialing up the efforts to get high-speed internet to every New Yorker plugged in to our communities because we are only as strong as long as we are together.”

Only 63% of rural Americans report having broadband access; those who do pay an average of 37% more for broadband than urban subscribers. For example, Sullivan County is rural with a population of 77,547 and has many unserved areas and areas where residents and businesses cannot secure access to service without cost prohibitive connection fees ranging from $20,000 to over $100,000. This lack of broadband infrastructure inhibits economic growth, discourages the growth of the Mid-Hudson’s critical tourism industry, and poses public safety issues with gaps in navigation technology.

Fortunately, on top of allowing Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange County local governments to use local aid allocations to expand high-speed internet infrastructure, The American Rescue Plan, will provide $7.172 billion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – with an estimated $600 million for New York – to help schools and libraries so Hudson Valley children can fully participate in remote learning, even as schools look to reopen safely. Furthermore, in the American Rescue Plan, Senator Schumer secured $3 billion in EDA funding on top of the $1.5 billion he secured in previous relief bills to support local economic development projects like Sullivan County’s $2 million proposal to develop a countywide, county-owned wireless broadband network with the goal of defeating the digital divide in Sullivan County all together. Additionally, various Hudson Valley officials have criticized the practice of using census blocks to improperly map broadband coverage areas and in December Senator Schumer secured $65 million to fund the Broadband Data Act to address these data collection issues.  

“COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that access to reliable, high-speed internet is critical for families, businesses, and students throughout Sullivan County. Senator Schumer understands this and we're grateful for his leadership in making sure that the American Rescue Plan had dedicated funding for Sullivan County's local governments that can be used to improve infrastructure and close the digital divide. We're excited to continue working with the Senator to bring better wireless broadband service to our residents and businesses that have been disadvantaged for far too long," said Joshua Potosek, Sullivan County Manager. 

“As Orange County Executive, I am grateful for the efforts of Senator Schumer in the funding of reliable, high-speed internet. Broadband is a vital component to the economic vitality of the entire region and these funds will assist our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Schumer to advance this important initiative,” said Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus.

"Last summer, every single member of our County Legislature voted to create the Sullivan County Broadband Access Local Development Corporation to give our residents and business owners the access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet that they deserve. We are grateful for Senator Schumer's leadership in securing aid for local governments in the American Rescue Plan and thank him for his support of the County's ongoing efforts to defeat the digital divide that the rural communities in our County face each and every day,” said Sullivan County Broadband Access Local Development Corporation Chairman, Michael Brooks.

“COVID-19 has shown us all that the digital divide in the Hudson Valley’s rural and low-income areas is painfully real. Without the right broadband infrastructure, attracting businesses and jobs to the area becomes next to impossible,” said Mike Oates, President and CEO of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation. “Senator Schumer recognizes this new reality and we thank him for his steadfast commitment to delivering affordable, accessible, high-speed connectivity to Hudson Valley businesses and workers.”

“Although connectivity has long been a challenge for many in our community, the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the exigency of securing reliable and affordable internet access for all families in Sullivan County,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Evans said. “We thank Senator Schumer for his leadership and advocacy in passing the American Rescue Plan Act, particularly as it relates to rural broadband, so that we can ensure digital equity for all.”

“I want to thank Senator Schumer for his tireless efforts in bringing additional funding to our communities. The pandemic has proven that access to broadband is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity of daily life. We’ve seen the struggles that people have faced without high-speed internet. We’re seeing doctors’ appointments, work, and school being conducted online. The American Rescue Plan will make substantial investments to ensure that more people in Sullivan County have access to the services they need,” said New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.

In addition to broadband infrastructure, Schumer detailed the American Rescue Plan’s tentative impact to New York as more than $100 Billion dollars. The deal includes the additional round of direct stimulus checks for hundreds of thousands of Hudson Valley residents, on top of aid to help schools safely reopen, vaccine distribution, critical pension relief, an expanded Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, new rental assistance, agriculture and nutrition assistance, direct local fiscal relief to revive the local economy and help solve budget woes for local governments in Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange Counties, a dedicated relief fund for the struggling Hudson Valley restaurant industry, and improvements to the Save Our Stages fund to assist Mid-Hudson venues like the Forestburgh Playhouse, all of which adds up to essential relief for countless families, workers, restaurants, more independent live venues and small businesses across the Hudson Valley.

Schumer also highlighted that researchers have said that the American Rescue Plan will cut the child poverty rate in half, which is especially important for Sullivan County’s 27% of children living in poverty, the highest percentage within the Mid-Hudson region. Additionally, the senator explained that 17% of Ulster County children live in poverty and 19% of Orange County children live in poverty. This monumental legislation will give working families in the Hudson Valley that are struggling with inequities like the digital divide and the “Homework Gap” additional resources to close these gaps. This plan:

  • Makes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) fully refundable and increases the credit amount from $2,000 to $3,000 per child age 6 to 17 (and $3,600 per child below the age of 6). An estimated 3.56 million New York children will benefit from this expanded tax credit, and it will lift 680,000 children in the state above or closer to the poverty line. It is estimated that New York families will receive $7.03 billion from the enhanced CTC.
  • Strengthens the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers, many of whom are in lower-paid but essential jobs on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response, benefitting 910,000 of these workers in New York. It is estimated that New York families will receive over $786 million from the enhanced ETIC.
  • Sends $22 billion in direct payments of $1,400 to over 9 million New Yorkers. That includes approximately $87.5 million in direct payments for more than an estimated 35,000 households in Sullivan County, $204 million in direct payments for more than an estimated 82,000 households in Ulster County, and $453 million in direct payments for more than an estimated 182,000 households in Orange County.

As part of the deal, more than $23.8 billion in state and local aid will be going to New York State, with more than $22,900,000 estimated going to Sullivan County and its local governments, $144,850,000 estimated going to Orange County and its local governments, and $70,080,000 estimated going to Ulster County and its local governments. New York State government will also receive over $12 billion in estimated aid, solving the state’s budget woes.

Additionally, with 45% of Sullivan County, 53% of Orange County, and 53% in Ulster County rental units currently occupied by tenants spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Schumer explained that rental assistance, included in the American Rescue Plan, is also a necessary tool to fight poverty in the Mid-Hudson region. The legislation also delivers critical relief for suffering multiemployer pension plans – which have experienced significant additional challenges as a result of this economic crisis – without cutting benefits retirees have earned. In New York State alone, there are more than 1.3 million participants in multiemployer pension plans, and around 624,600 New Yorkers are participants in plans that are expected to receive relief directly through this legislation.