Congressional Negotiators Approve Incentives for States to Pass “Red Flag” Laws

By Bill Swinford

In the aftermath of the most recent wave of mass shootings around the U.S. brought to the forefront following the tragedies in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, a bipartisan group of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic U.S. senators reached an agreement on a federal response on June 21.

The proposed legislation includes $750 million for crisis intervention programs, including so-called “red flag” (or “extreme risk”) protective orders. Generally, these statutes allow law enforcement officials, household and family members, and others to petition a judge to issue an order removing firearms from an individual’s possession and/or preventing them from making firearm purchases. The processes fluctuate among the states, but all roughly reflect approaches to domestic violence protective orders. Variation occurs in two primary areas: who can request extreme risk protection orders and how long the orders last.

Recent polling indicates there is broad public support for stricter gun laws in general and more specifically for “red flag” laws. Evidence is inconclusive about whether extreme risk protective orders reduce the number of episodes of gun violence, such as mass shootings. But there is anecdotal evidence from California and New York that crises can be avoided with intervention, especially when stakeholders are trained in effective implementation.

Those critical of “red flag” laws raise concern about protecting the due process rights of individuals subject to such orders. The need for due process in this policy space is substantial since it deals with the Second Amendment’s protection of “the right to keep and bear arms.”

While the current conversation has its genesis in mass shootings, evidence also makes clear that the presence of these statutes reduces rates of suicide. Deaths by suicide account for more than half of all firearm-related fatalities in the U.S. Extreme risk protective order laws in Connecticut and Indiana, for example, were found to substantially reduce these fatalities.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have these laws in place. Click on the state to review that legislation:

Variation occurs in two primary areas: who can request extreme risk protection orders and how long the orders last.

There are two types of orders: temporary (e.g., emergency, ex parte) and final. Temporary orders can be granted without notice to the individual said to be at-risk and last no more than 21 days. Final orders generally last six months to one year.

The parameters of due process of orders with longer time frames are debated. A judge’s ability to issue an order is contingent upon a range of standards, from the most lenient (“reasonable cause” in states like California and Washington) to the most stringent (“clear and convincing evidence” in states like Delaware and Illinois). More detail on the legal standards across states can be found here.

More resources for state policymakers include:

Giffords Law Center

Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions

PEW Charitable Trusts


[i] In Connecticut, family and household members and health care professionals can request an investigation, but only law enforcement has the authority to request a protective order.

[ii] In Connecticut, no end date is specified, but and individual can petition for the removal of the order after 180 days.

[iii] Indiana has two orders: warrant (lasts 180 days after issuance) and warrantless (lasts 180 days after court order).

[iv] In Colorado, the final order is for “364 days”.

[v] In Maryland, only family and household members can petition for a final order.

[vi] In Oregon, only a final order is available.

Second Amendment Law: Resources for State Leaders

By Bill Swinford

In the wake of the murders in Uvalde, Texas this week, state policymakers may consider reviewing the current state of Second Amendment law and judicial decisions.

Because the Constitution is silent on the regulation of firearms outside the Second Amendment, most law and regulation occurs at the state and local level. However, there are several federal firearm statutes, such the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. These laws generally find their constitutional justification in the Commerce Clause. (The Constitution gives Congress the power to “regulate commerce among the several states,” so it has long been legally accepted that Congress can regulate firearms in some ways, as they are a bought/sold commodity that regularly crosses state lines.)

For the first 150 years of the Constitution’s existence, the U.S. Supreme Court turned away legal challenges to state and local regulation of firearms. This stance basically conceded broad regulatory authority to the various levels of government. The court did not enter the legal conversation until 1939.

In U.S. v. Miller (1939), plaintiffs challenged the federal National Firearms Act of 1934, which required certain types of firearms to be registered with the federal agency now known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The Supreme Court (8-0) upheld the statute, finding no independent right to own a gun outside a “well regulated Militia,” which the court said was equivalent to a government unit. The court also discussed the types of weapons required to be registered and found it appropriate that the government would impose such a thing.

The Supreme Court regarded Miller as “settled law” for nearly 70 years, regularly refusing to take up challenges to federal, state and local regulations. As a result, governments imposed a wide range of regulations and prohibitions. As with other policy areas dominated by governments below the federal level, there was considerable variation.

For a case to make its way onto the docket, four of the nine Supreme Court justices have vote to support a hearing. Between 1939 and 2008, there were not at least four votes for revisiting the holding in Miller.

The District of Columbia had an ordinance for several years during that timeframe that required potential gun owners to procure a license. In addition, licensed guns had to be kept “unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device unless they are located in a place of business or are being used for lawful recreational activities.”

Dick Heller, a local law enforcement officer, challenged the D.C. ordinance as a violation of the Second Amendment. The Court agreed to review the ordinance and revisit the holding in Miller.

In Heller, the Court (5-4) decided there is, in fact, a right to own a gun apart from service in a state militia. The Court argued that the introductory phrase does not reference a government-run military entity, but instead references the reality that at the time the Constitution was written there was a long tradition of private gun ownership. In addition, part of the purpose of free ownership was to enable private citizens to form militias to resist central government oppression (thus “necessary to the security of a free State”).

The majority clarified that the Second Amendment is not “absolute” (i.e. does not prohibit all gun regulation). So the current debate about the extent of constitutional gun regulation focuses there. For example, the majority of the court noted:

  • “…[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
  • The kinds of firearms protected are the ones “in common use at the time” of the framing of the Constitution. “We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

Finally, the Court has long held that when a personal right is at issue, government regulation must be supported by a “compelling” reason and the goal must be pursued by “narrow” means. For example, the court made clear (above) that prohibiting firearms in government buildings is “compelling.” However, the court left some questions undetermined — for example, how far away from a government building the prohibition would extend.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Nov. 3, 2021 in New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. Here, the plaintiffs challenged a New York City ordinance that requires applicants for a handgun license to show “proper cause” for handgun ownership, indicating a special need for protection. A majority of the justices seemed skeptical of the ordinance’s constitutionality, but the justices seemed to be gravitating toward a narrow ruling. For example, the justices were quick to note the plaintiffs were not challenging other New York ordinances, such as those restricting the carrying of firearms in “sensitive places.”

A decision from the court in Bruen is expected in the next few weeks. It may further clarify the legal landscape.

State policymakers can learn more about the current legal landscape of gun regulation by visiting the following resources:

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down portion of federal elections law

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that part of a federal elections law violated the First Amendment.

Under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the Federal Election Commission limited federal candidates’ ability to raise money post-election to repay their personal loans to their campaigns.

In a 6-3 decision (Federal Election Commission v. Cruz), the Supreme Court found that the authority granted by Section 304 of that law violated candidates’ free speech rights. While the decision immediately affects only federal elections, the court’s legal argument would presumably apply to similar state election regulations.

The Supreme Court has long held that running for office and donating to campaigns are protected forms of speech under the free speech clause. Chief Justice John Roberts noted in Cruz that the First Amendment “has its fullest and most urgent application precisely to the conduct of campaigns for political office.” 

In Cruz, the question was not whether donations from third parties can be used to retire a candidate’s personal campaign loans. The issue was the timing of the donations – can they be made after an election? The FEC argued that the statute was designed to fight corruption by prohibiting a quid pro quo between post-election donors and newly elected (or re-elected) officials. The commission further argued that any burden on free speech was small, as the statute “…does not restrict the amount of money that a candidate may spend, the amount he may donate or lend to his campaign, or the amount of money campaigns may raise from donors. It instead imposes a narrow timing restriction, capping the campaign’s ability to use a specific set of funds (post-election contributions) for a specific purpose (re-paying the candidate’s personal loans).”

In recent decades, the court has been particularly skeptical of any burden on free speech, regardless of magnitude. Here, the court found the FEC arguments lacked legitimacy. In particular, the court noted that the commission did not provide any examples of the problem the statute was attempting to solve. The court also noted there are other legislative safeguards against corruption.

While the court’s holding applies only to restrictions on donations in federal elections, the broad language in the majority opinion makes it clear that federal courts will now greet similar state campaign fundraising restrictions with considerable skepticism. State officials may consider reviewing their finance regulations for limits on post-election loan recovery.

The National Conference of State Legislatures and Ballotpedia provide resources for state policymakers to review state-level campaign finance laws.

Associates in Action: Meta, Microsoft, Pfizer, and Walgreens Make TIME 100 Most Influential Companies of 2022 List

By: Victor Montgomery

Associates in Action articles highlight CSG Associates’ philanthropic efforts and public-private partnerships throughout the states.

TIME Magazine’s list of 2022’s 100 Most Influential Companies featured four CSG Associates – Pfizer, Meta, Microsoft, and Walgreens. The annual list highlights businesses making an extraordinary impact around the world through a holistic evaluation of company impact, innovation, leadership, ambition, and success.

Pfizer

Pfizer continues to lead health solutions into 2022 after unveiling Paxlovid – the United States’ first oral antiviral therapy and pill-based coronavirus treatment for high-risk individuals – at the end of last year. The two-drug combination can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by up to 89% and has received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Meta

Meta is making strides in technology with its innovative “metaverse” concept. Unveiled in October 2021, Meta describes the metaverse as a seamless integration of familiar 2D web browsing with projections in the physical world and virtual 3D spaces. Using emerging technologies, including virtual reality, the metaverse will allow people to get the feeling of being close to one another without being in the same physical place.

Microsoft

Microsoft, pioneering digital transformation and cloud technology, kicked off 2022 with the acquisition of video game publisher Activision/Blizzard. Microsoft has since beaten revenue expectations to the tune of $51.7 billion in the most recent financial quarter and turned those profits into funding for STEM education, supply chain innovation, and diversity initiatives.

Walgreens

Walgreens made leaps in technology, training, and community outreach to administer the 60 million COVID-19 vaccinations and 26 million tests given to date. Now, Walgreens is on track to open 200 primary-care practices by 2023 and expand to 1,000 locations by 2027. A leader in advancing health equity, over half of these facilities will be in medically underserved communities.

Upcoming Webinar: State Strategies to Combat Human Trafficking on Public Transit

By: Mary Wurtz

On Wednesday, June 8, at 2:00 p.m. (EST) The Council of State Governments (CSG) will host a webinar to debut a new CSG report, “Safety Awareness on Public Transit: State Responses.”

The report was developed in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and outlines different strategies states have adopted to combat the use of public transit for human trafficking. In 2020, over 16,000 victims of human trafficking were reported to the U.S. National Trafficking Hotline. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations, human trafficking is defined as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

While human trafficking incidents occur through many other methods, traffickers often rely on public transit systems to recruit, control and deliver victims to buyers. To explore potential methods for combatting this phenomenon, CSG hosted a virtual learning seminar in 2021 with policymakers and other key stakeholders to discuss possible solutions.

The CSG report to be discussed June 8 outlines the strategies discussed during last year’s virtual discussion. These strategies include:

  1. Raising awareness of human trafficking on public transit;
  2. Engaging key stakeholders;
  3. Considering specific populations affected; and
  4. Considering a broad approach to transit safety options.

In the June 8 webinar, CSG will expand on these four strategies and discuss examples from states that have taken steps to address trafficking on public transit. The webinar will feature presenters Kristen Joyner of the Community Transportation Association of America and Sydney Blodgett of CSG.

Kristen Joyner is the Vice President of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), a national membership association representing rural, small-urban, specialized and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation providers nationwide. Ms. Joyner has represented the Southwest Transit Assocation on the CTAA Board since 2017. Currently, she serves as an advocate for transit issues and conducts leadership training and certification programs for transportation professionals. From 2012 – 2016, she was a member of the White House Task Force for Transit Leaders. Recently, she spearheaded Operation Veterans in Public Transportation, a project that SWTA developed to acknowledge and support veterans in transportation.

Sydney Blodgett is a Project Manager at The Council of State Governments. Ms. Blodgett has experience in engaging state leaders to discuss policy issues and solutions in a bipartisan and innovative way. Throughout her career, she has researched and analyzed state-level policies in a variety of areas. She disseminates her research through blogs, articles and online platforms. Prior to CSG, Ms. Blodgett worked for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. She earned a B.A. from the University of Louisville and an M.P.A from the University of Kentucky.

Please register for the June 8 webinar here


Information for State Leaders: Study finds communities continue to face mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the global pandemic

by Bill Swinford

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. A recent survey by the Cleveland Clinic found “37% of respondents ranked their mental health as average or low…Additionally, in the last week alone, 45% of respondents grappled with anxiety, 36% dealt with sadness or depression, and 34% dealt with anger.” 

On May 10 and 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released reports on two manifestations of these continuing challenges to mental wellness in the U.S. exacerbated by the pandemic and impacting every state and region.

On May 10, the CDC reported, “The overall firearm suicide rate remained nearly level between 2019 and 2020, with age-specific rate increases among persons 10 – 44 years old, partially offset by a decrease among those 45 – 64 years old.” According to the report, “Overall, rates were highest at the highest poverty level and lowest at the lowest poverty level.” Approximately 53% of deaths by suicide in the U.S. involve a firearm. While the report does not specify firearm suicide rates by state, overall firearm deaths increased in every region of the U.S. The report does not reach conclusion about the causes of the increase, but notes the “…increased stressors (e.g., economic, social, and psychological) and disruptions in health, social, and emergency services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In addition to the impact of human life and their communities, the CDC reports “…in 2019, suicide and nonfatal self-harm cost the nation nearly $490 billion in medical costs, work loss costs, value of statistical life, and quality of life costs.” 

The CDC provides a number of resources for policymakers as they explore approaches to reducing death by suicide. 

On May 11, the CDC reported “…there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020.” Every state except Hawaii and Wyoming experienced an increase, with many states experiencing increases of more than 20%. Overdose is among the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. According to the Recovery Research Institute, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the opioid overdose crisis. As researchers seek to document and explain this impact, theoretical reasons given for increased public health harms include a more dangerous drug supply, disruption of treatment and recovery support services, social isolation, and increased levels of social and economic stress.”

study in 2017 found “The economic cost of the U.S. opioid epidemic in 2017 was estimated at $1,021 billion, including cost of opioid use disorder estimated at $471 billion and cost of fatal opioid overdose estimated at $550 billion.” The report includes a breakdown of costs per capita per state.

The CDC makes available to policymakers a series of resources for combatting the overdose epidemic.

Resource for state leaders to share for those who need help or know someone who does, include:

  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
  • Use the online Lifeline Chat

Both are free and confidential. Callers will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in their area.

State Investment of the $26 Billion Opioid Settlement

By Ishara Nanayakkara

In July 2021, four U.S. pharmaceutical corporations agreed to pay $26 billion to settle thousands of civil lawsuits. Multiple state and local governments and tribal nations pursued litigation against these businesses alleging corporate responsibility for the severity of the ongoing opioid crisis. Three drug distributors and one manufacturer agreed to pay $21 billion and $5 billion respectively to provide healthcare, rehabilitation and prevention services to help mitigate the crisis.

Oversight

States are using these opioid settlement funds for a variety of purposes that assist individuals suffering from substance use disorders (Table 1 below provides a complete list of proposed and enacted legislation). Most commonly, funds are being allocated to create and maintain committees or commissions to make recommendations on how funds should be allocated. These committees also oversee the distribution of resources and ensure they are properly utilized to temper the crisis – and not diverted to unrelated programs. Members are appointed by officials such as governors and attorney generals based on established criteria.

For example, in Colorado, the membership must include at least one medically-certified professional, at least one pharmacist and at least one individual directly impacted by the opioid crisis. In Kentucky, the membership must include representation of crisis victims, law enforcement and the drug treatment and prevention communities.

Examples of newly established committees include Colorado’s Opioid Recovery Crisis Funds Advisory Committee that provides input and recommendations to the Attorney General on [SN1] effective expenditure of settlement funds. The Prescription Opioid Distribution Commission in Delaware ensures funding is used to mitigate the opioid crisis and not diverted. A report regarding the receipt and allocation of funds must be provided annually to the Commission. Kentucky instituted the Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission [SN2] and Illinois created the Opioid Settlement Fund. [SN3] 

In addition to the settlement requirements, states have established additional guidelines for distributing funds. In Florida, funds are only allocated to counties that have an abatement plan and a population of over 300,000 people. Eligible counties must have treatment and prevention programs in place alongside an opioid task force to collect information related to substance abuse disorders and makes recommendations regarding responding to the epidemic.

Listening

Several oversight entities incorporate the views and recommendations of affected communities when making funding decisions. Delaware’s Opioid Distribution Commission is one such committee. Counties and municipal governments provide input, and these recommendations are considered when funds are allocated and programs are implemented. Idaho takes on a similar approach by creating a state-directed fund used to support prevention and recovery efforts. The Joint-Finance Appropriations Committee will make take recommendations from the Behavioral Health Council on how to apportion funding.

Responding

States are also taking similar approaches to investing funds in response to the opioid crisis emergency. These methods include revamping existing programs as well as creating new ones. Some programs provide direct treatment and rehabilitation services while others provide broader, long-term support to recovering individuals, such as housing assistance and job training.

In Illinois, all opioid settlement-related dollars are deposited in the Opioid Settlement Fund, where resources are allocated to provide access to and ensure availability of effective usage disorder treatment; invest funding in safety nets for substance abuse providers; and maximize the opportunity to draw matching federal resources related to the alleviation of the crisis. It is also mandated that $100,000 be allocated annually to the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association to cover application and testing costs for human services professionals who provide substance use disorder and mental health supports.

The Advisory Commission in Kentucky will reimburse expenses for services provided to individuals in the justice system, support for medication-assisted and abstinence-based treatment programs, investment in recovery and other services provided by community health centers, emergency response services provided by law enforcement and naloxone costs. It will also fund projects that support intervention, treatment and recovery services including medical detoxification, supportive or recovery housing, employment training and transportation to recovery services and programs. Colorado expanded a similar program that provides housing vouchers for those with mental health, behavioral and substance use disorders.

North Carolina also funds housing support programs, including assistance with rent, move-in deposits and utilities as well as recovery housing programs for those receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. This model differs from Colorado by including assistance for individuals who are currently using substances and are not in recovery. Funding goes to programs that offer employment support services such as job training, job placement, interview coaching, resume review, professional attire advice and relevant courses at community colleges or vocational school to people in treatment or currently using. Transportation services and vouchers also are provided. North Carolina also funds evidence-based recovery support services like peer support specialists and care navigators who assist with treatment or recovery in detention facilities, social service offices and local health departments.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center has resources available to states looking for evidence-based strategies to improve outcomes for people with substance abuse disorders. Additionally, the Justice Center provides resources on best practices for successful reentry for people with opioid addictions and screening and assessment for those in the criminal justice system.  

Table 1.

Proposed and enacted legislation regarding the use of opioid settlement funds

(Links included in first column for state opioid settlement websites, as available)

StateBillStatus*
CaliforniaSenate Bill 1282In Progress
ColoradoHouse Bill 19Enacted
ConnecticutHouse Bill 5436In Progress
DelawareSenate Bill 166Enacted
FloridaHouse Bill 5013In Progress
IdahoHouse Bill 315Enacted
IllinoisHouse Resolution 296Enacted
IndianaHouse Bill 1193Enacted
IowaHouse File 2323In Progress
KansasHouse Bill 2412In Progress
KentuckyHouse Bill 427Enacted
LouisianaHouse Bill 1045In Progress
MaineHouse Proposal 1277Enacted
MarylandSenate Bill 419Enacted
MassachusettsHouse 5129Enacted
MichiganHouse Bill 5968In Progress
MinnesotaHouse File 400Enacted
MissouriHouse Bill 2162In Progress
NebraskaLegislative Bill 1124Enacted
New HampshireHouse Bill 1565In Progress
New JerseySenate 783In Progress
NevadaAssembly Bill 374Enacted
New YorkSenate 7194Enacted
North CarolinaSenate Bill 682In Progress
OklahomaHouse Bill 4138Enacted
OregonHouse Bill 4098Enacted
PennsylvaniaHouse Bill 1348Enacted
South CarolinaHouse 5182In Progress
South DakotaHouse Bill 1038Enacted
TennesseeHouse Bill 1132Enacted
TexasSenate Bill 1827Enacted
VermontHouse 711In Progress
VirginiaHouse Bill 2322Enacted
WisconsinAssembly Bill 374Enacted

*Status as of May 4, 2022


Associates in Action: Neurocrine Biosciences Honors Fifth Annual Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) Awareness Week

By: Victor Montgomery

Neurocrine Biosciences, a CSG Associate, recently recognized the fifth annual Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) Awareness Week to help elevate the voices and experiences of people living with tardive dyskinesia. This May, for the first time ever, all 50 states and Washington D.C. joined Neurocrine Biosciences and mental health advocacy organizations nationwide to shine a light on those affected by TD. More than 25 iconic landmarks across the nation – from Niagara Falls to the Portland Morrison Street Bridge to the entire Balboa Park complex – were lit up blue to elevate awareness in the community around TD. By recognizing TD Awareness Week, Neurocrine Biosciences, advocacy organizations, legislators, and the community raised awareness around:

  • The impact TD can have on a person’s physical, emotional and social well-being
  • The signs and symptoms associated with TD
  • The importance of working with one’s doctor to manage the condition, including talking about available treatment options

Tardive dyskinesia is a condition that affects approximately 600,000 people in the United States. The disorder causes uncontrollable movements affecting the face, torso, and/or other body parts and may develop after a few months of taking certain medications (antipsychotics) to treat bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. The uncontrollable movements of TD can significantly reduce the quality of life for those affected, impacting daily tasks such as eating, sleeping, drinking and even leaving the house.

TD can also have emotional and social consequences. Data from the RE-KINECT study, the largest real-world screening study of patients with clinically confirmed possible TD, demonstrated that 75% of the 204 participants affirmed feeling self-conscious or embarrassed about involuntary movements caused by TD. By acknowledging and recognizing these symptoms as part of a real, chronic condition, TD Awareness Week provides important education and encouragement to connect patients with necessary support and potential treatment.

TD Awareness Week kicks off the first full week of May, otherwise known as Mental Health Awareness Month – an initiative established in 1949 by the National Association for Mental Health. Mental Health Awareness Month acknowledges the one in five U.S. adults living with a mental illness and who may be at highest risk of developing TD.

Neurocrine Biosciences is a neuroscience-focused biopharmaceutical company dedicated to discovering, developing and delivering life-changing treatments for people with under-addressed neurological, endocrine and psychiatric disorders. For nearly three decades, Neurocrine Biosciences has specialized in targeting and interrupting disease-causing mechanisms involving the interconnected pathways of the nervous and endocrine systems.

For more information on TD Awareness Week, please visit: TalkAboutTD.com

Broadband Expansion Initiatives

On Monday, President Biden announced “…commitments from 20 leading internet providers — covering more than 80% of the U.S. population across urban, suburban, and rural areas — to either increase speeds or cut prices, making sure they all offer ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month.” The announcement is a component of the Affordable Connectivity Program, established as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted last November. 

The pandemic dramatically accelerated societal dependence on internet access for success at work, school and access to services including physical and mental health care. However, even as broadband infrastructure has expanded substantially, inequalities remain. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, 92% of households with an average income of $75,000 or higher have broadband access at home; for those making $30,000 or less annually, that figure drops to 57%.

The infrastructure act includes a $65 billion investment in broadband expansion and access support, with $14.2 billion designated specifically for the Affordable Connectivity Program. Among the components of the $14.2 billion allocation strategy is $30/month in benefits to qualifying low-income households with approximately 11.5 million individuals enrolled. The commitment announced Monday from internet providers, along with the $30 subsidy to households already in place through the Affordable Connectivity Program, means eligible households will have access to no cost internet plans. 

Meanwhile, the infrastructure bill also directs state governments to require private companies to offer a “low-cost option” to qualify for federal funds designated for broadband expansion to underserved areas. The legislation does not provide clarification on the meaning of “low-cost” and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (Department of Commerce) has the authority under the infrastructure act to reject proposed plans for not meeting the requirement. Conflicts between providers and consumer advocate organizations have risen across the states as policymakers navigate the uncertain terrain.

Left unsaid in Monday’s announcement is what impact, if any, the national agreement with providers will have on the mandate that state governments ensure “low-cost option” plans.

For more federal resources for state and local government broadband expansion efforts, click here.