Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday, Dec. 16 announced a first of its kind initiative in Illinois to expand digital access for low-income households throughout the state.
Through a unique partnership with PCs for People, a national nonprofit providing refurbished devices, Cook County, and numerous other community partners, the State of Illinois will launch a statewide network to deploy refurbished computers, digital literacy programming and workforce development.
The new Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network aims to put computers and other mobile devices into the hands of Illinois residents — assisting more families with access to high speed internet that is essential for e-learning, remote work, telehealth, and more.
To further expand digital access across the state, Pritzker issued a call to action to public, private and philanthropic sectors to donate used equipment and build on a network already set to deploy at least 20,000 refurbished computers annually for Illinois families.
“Today we are kicking this off by providing the first 20,000 devices to families in need all across the state. As we grow the program, it’s businesses and philanthropists that will make this program successful. 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. 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,” said Pritzker.
Preckwinkle’s Council on Digital Equity (CODE) is composed of local members and senior advisors from around the U.S. who provide expertise and guidance as Cook County takes action to address digital inequities. CODE has a special focus on the County’s south suburbs and other communities that have great need. CODE engages numerous, diverse groups to advance digital inclusivity and equity in the areas of digital infrastructure, digital proficiency and digital well-being.
“The pandemic has laid bare the tremendous inequities in our communities, including access to technology and digital accessibility. This is particularly important during a time when residents are dependent on technology for remote work and education,” said Preckwinkle. “I am grateful for the governor, my Council of Digital Equity and PCs for People’s partnership in this critical initiative to help narrow the digital divide in Illinois.”
To keep up with high demand for devices and connectivity, PCs for People and the state of Illinois are urging businesses and individuals either to refurbish or recycle their technology using PCs for People’s zero-landfill approach. The organization provides free certified and secure data wiping, and all computer hard drives. To jumpstart the effort, the Jewish United Fund has provided $250,000 in critical seed funding to initiate the Cook County partnership.
The state and its partners have already begun deploying devices through the Metro East location, which launched in September, with support from the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund.
“The pandemic has shown millions of homes do not have the connectivity needed for education, information and remote work,” said PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen. “We are honored to partner with Gov. Pritzker and the State of Illinois, businesses donating technology and an array of community partners to get devices and support to thousands of residents across the state at a time of great need.”
PCs for People will operate the network with close involvement of the Illinois Office of Broadband and various community partners. The statewide network will include two central warehouse locations — one in southern Cook County and the other in the Metro East Region.
Each centralized warehouse location will receive, refurbish, and redistribute computers for use by low-income households around the state. While the Metro East hub has been active since September, a new lease agreement with Cook County will allow PCs for People and the state to launch the second warehouse center in January 2021.
For more information on how to recycle technology or to apply for an upgraded device, visit Illinois.gov/computerequitynetwork.
While initial investments by the state and its corporate partners are paving the way to distribute 20,000 devices, the need is much greater, with an estimated 1.1 million households in Illinois without a computer at home, according to U.S. Census data.
To help more households currently without the internet get the equipment needed for connectivity, the state is calling on Illinois’s public, private and philanthropic partners to make more used computers available for donation.
Visit Illinois.gov/computerequitynetwork for donation information as well as information on eligibility to receive a device from this program.
Households without access to a working computer or internet or those seeking to donate are encouraged to visit PCs for People’s website to register and learn more about how they can request a computer. To be eligible, residents must be below 200 percent of the poverty level or enrolled in an income-based government assistance program, such as free and reduced school lunch, Medicaid, and SNAP.