Board Action Request
Authorize up to $10,000,000 in federal funds for eligible costs, operations, and services to continue and expand the “Connecting Hennepin” initiative that aims to eliminate the Digital Divide in Hennepin County; delegate authority to the County Administrator, neg agmts for services; 07/01/21–12/31/24; direction to provide an update and additional recommendations
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners hereby authorizes up to $10,000,000 of its federal funding from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund available under section 603 of the Social Security Act, as added by section 9901 of the American Rescue Plan Act, together, “Federal Pandemic Funds,” to be utilized for eligible costs, operations, staffing, and services to continue and expand the “Connecting Hennepin” initiative that aims to eliminate the Digital Divide in Hennepin County; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, in order to implement the above resolving clause, the County Administrator is authorized to negotiate agreements with providers for eligible services to address the digital divide from July 1, 2021 through December 31, 2024 in a total not to exceed amount of $10,000,000; this includes but is not limited to negotiating amendments and increasing the not to exceed amounts for existing agreements with providers, negotiating new agreements with providers, or transferring funds to other units of government; that following review and approval by the County Attorney’s Office, the Chair of the board be authorized to sign the agreements; and the Controller be authorized to transfer or disburse funds as directed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the County Administrator is directed to seek alternative funding sources for these purposes; and that to the extent other state or federal funding is received for the expenditures authorized by this Resolution, the County Administrator is delegated authority to reduce the above authorization of Federal Pandemic Funds if necessary to ensure there is no duplication of assistance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, in order to implement the above resolving clauses and pursuant to Minn. Stat. §§ 383B.101 et seq., the County Administrator is authorized to effectuate the goals of this resolution, including but not limited to directing and coordinating county personnel and resources as needed to implement the immediate strategies to address the digital divide; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the above-referenced authorization of Federal Pandemic Funds by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners does not imply a continued funding commitment by the county for these costs, operations, or services when Federal Pandemic Funds are no longer available; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the County Administrator is directed to provide an update to the County Board within 120 days regarding the above efforts to address the digital divide in Hennepin County and the creation of a Digital Equity Plan.
This board action request aligns with Hennepin County disparity reduction efforts. Investing in digital equity will positively impact all of these domains. Eliminating the digital divide for our region is a top priority of the transportation domain in particular, whose goal includes “a future where all residents are able to fully participate in the digital world, and have universal access to affordable broadband, personal technology and the digital skills to needed to thrive.”
This request seeks $10,000,000 in federal funding to continue the most successful parts of the Connecting Hennepin program, to scale other aspects, to leverage the county’s fiber-optic infrastructure on behalf of the community to resolve broadband gaps. Staff would be assigned to coordinate with federal, state, and local government partners, internet service providers, and community organizations to develop and implement a Digital Equity Plan for Hennepin County. Programmatic work would include an all-of-the-above approach, including:
- Office and Digital Equity Plan: The Disparity Reduction line of business would establish an Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion to lead this work, coordinating with federal, state, and local government partners, internet service providers, and community organizations to develop and implement a Digital Equity Plan for Hennepin County. It would include program staff necessary to operationalize the work.
- Connectivity: A combination of wired and wireless partnerships to address rural connectivity barriers and affordability issues among low-income residents. Partnerships with internet service providers are being pursued to bridge gaps in home and mobile internet access. The county would not become an internet service provider.
- Digital literacy and navigation: Hire temporary or limited-duration staff to assist clients determine and resolve technology needs by enrolling clients into available programs, accessing available device distribution programs, and offering digital literacy support to facilitate technology adoption.
- Devices: Provide county clients and other prioritized residents with free, low-cost or loaned computers and other technology peripherals. Technical support for these devices will be provided and connected to digital skill building and job-training initiatives.
- Community based digital adoption/navigation programs: Funding for trusted messengers or current contracted providers for outreach to residents in need of support and digital navigation services to help people take advantage of available technology programs.
- Community engagement and coalition building to engaging with internal and external stakeholders to develop a Digital Equity Plan that includes strategies for broadband, devices, digital literacy and outreach for technology adoption.
- Metrics and evaluation will include the number of people served, demographic and geographic information, including the American Community Survey, and feedback loops with participants and partners to measure the program’s effectiveness.