STOCKTON, Calif. — A program designed to provide opportunities and bring low-income residents into the digital age has officially been fully rolled out in Stockton this year.
In September 2021, Stockton City Council approved $2.9 million to be allocated from the city's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID-19 grant. The funding was used to purchase laptops and tablets to distribute amongst income qualifying residents through what the city is calling the Digital Equity Project.
“We have 1,550 Chromebooks that come with three years of prepaid internet service, along with 500 tablets that will also come with three years of prepaid internet service," Stockton Community Services Director Kris Farro said. "Also, we have some curriculum that has been developed so that those that aren't familiar with how to use those tools can get some learning and be educated on how to use those tools.”
Distribution officially began in May 2022 and has been rolling out in a series of geographical phases prioritizing lower socioeconomic areas.
Phase one served residents in the downtown area first, as the area has the had the greatest need as far as low-income demographics.
“There's been three phases that have rolled out, and they tried to start with those areas they felt were the most in need, that lacked technology the most,” Farro said. “There is a map on our website and then people can go in and put their address in and that will let them know what phase they're in.”
According to Farro, city-conducted research reveals about 40% of the households in Stockton city limits lack internet access and 8% of households don't have a computer at all.
“We have found through the distributions that we've done so far that it's meeting a multitude of goals,” Farro said. “It's helping people go back to school, it's helping people find jobs, it's helping people access relatives and family members, get medical treatment and they can even go to court and do court documents online.”
On Aug. 15, phase three will officially be rolled out and any income-qualifying residents within city limits will have access to the program on a first come, first serve basis.
In the beginning stages of the program, residents were required to make a one-on-one appointment to receive a laptop or tablet.
The city has now distributed 500 Chromebooks and will begin holding two giveaway events per week to make it easier for those who qualify. No appointment is needed, only an ID card and proof of residency.
"They don't have to schedule an appointment; they can just pick which location they want to go to on which date," Farro said. "They'll just go there and we'll be giving out 100 Chromebooks at each one of those events until we are out."
The next giveaway event is Sept.10 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. hosted at the Villa Monterey Family Resource Center.
Laptops and tablets are limited to the amount the city could receive with the funding provided. Farro said there are no plans currently to purchase additional laptops or tablets with the grant but it may be possible in the future depending on the outcome of the Digital Equity initiative.
“We're trying to stretch the ARPA funds over as many things as we can, but there's a lot of needs in the city,” Farro said. “So whether they'll go to this project or another project, it's a little early on to say, but it's on the table to be discussed for sure.”
More information on how to check for income eligibility, upcoming events and relevant contact information can be found on the city website.
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