Tackling disparities in digital access
The COVID-19 pandemic sent thousands home for remote education and work — and illuminated the stark reality of the digital divide.
Lower-income families, many of whom are people of color, are more likely to lack the connectivity and technology needed to learn and work from home.
“The last two years have reinforced that access to technology is critical, and connectivity is the biggest barrier for many of the people we serve, especially our residents of color. Internet access should be universal; it should not be determined by your income or your zip code,” said May Xiong, assistant county administrator, Disparity Reduction. “Building from our work begun in the pandemic, the Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion is using ARPA funds and other income streams to expand internet access options, encourage broadband adoption, and help residents build the skills they need to thrive and stay safe online.”
Hennepin County steps up
With the help of CARES Act funds, Hennepin County launched Connecting Hennepin to address three critical areas of the digital divide: devices; connectivity and internet access; and supports, like digital literacy education.
More than 5,850 laptops were purchased during the first year of the program. Over 2,700 Chromebooks were distributed to support youth in distance learning, supplementing what schools could provide. Later, when school resumed in the fall of 2020, the county expanded to address adult technology needs, focusing on job seekers, seniors and individuals seeking telehealth services.
Connecting Hennepin benefited from the help of more than 80 partners who helped refer residents to the program and get technology into the hands of those who need it most.
What people are saying
One mother wrote, “I’m thankful for the laptop so that I can help my three daughters and son with school distance learning. We don’t own a personal computer, and this will be so helpful. Also, my father-in-law was recently diagnosed with cancer and we constantly have virtual appointments with his oncologist. The laptop will be most helpful...”
A woman said the laptop is a critical piece for professional training. “My current laptop freezes in the middle of my work. With this, I will be able to complete all my coursework and apply to nursing school.”
One man said, “I have been down on my luck since I’ve been let go from my job that I enjoyed tremendously. I will use this to help me obtain a job and better myself.”
This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in education, transportation, income, and employment.