Closing the digital divide in South San Francisco is a pivotal point for officials looking for projects to be funded with approximately $ 714,000 in coronavirus aid.
The South San Francisco City Council subcommittee that looked at funding block grants for the community looked at a number of programs to improve the quality of life for residents suffering from the pandemic.
While the subcommittee, made up of Councilor Flor Nicolas and Councilor James Coleman, examined various initiatives, there was general consensus that improving Internet access should be a top priority.
South San Francisco received $ 574,000 in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) bill, which is designed to help those in trouble due to the pandemic. Of that amount, officials said they would spend about $ 340,000 to expand Internet access for residents of South San Francisco.
With a county survey showing that nearly 300 households in the poorest neighborhoods do not have the technology to log on to the internet, subcommittee members showed interest in buying laptops and WiFi hotspots available to these families can be asked.
Nicolas said she would love to buy enough equipment for each of the families in need, but officials noted that the city has traditionally struggled to get in touch with any families who might need government assistance.
“I think we discovered that there is this natural wear and tear. When people realize that there is a program, you get this flood of applicants … and then you get these people to break down their barriers and trust us enough later – it will drain, ”said Nell Selander, deputy director of business and economics at the City Department of Community Development.
Selander noted that there is a barrier to entry into programs that require applicants to share sensitive information such as household income, and said it was a challenge for the government to address any existing needs.
No decision was made at the meeting and the issue will be dealt with again in January.
Officials also noted that the South San Francisco Unified School District has been working to ensure families in the school community have computers and hotspots. The city’s similar program could be used to help job seekers find the equipment they need to find a job online.
In addition to the computers and hotspots, officials also expressed an interest in expanding WiFi networks in parks in some of the city’s neediest neighborhoods.
Nicolas preferred to focus the program on the Cypress and Pine Playground, but Sharon Ranals, Assistant City Manager, suggested setting it up at Paradise Valley Park as it has a remote learning center that helps students with online education . She said there is WiFi access in the building where the hub is located, but wondered if it could be extended to the surrounding parking lots for those who need to access the internet from their car.
In addition to funding the CARES Act, officials also advocated spending approximately $ 140,000 on other claims to set up a free WiFi network along Linden Avenue. Looking ahead, they also expressed an interest in building a fiber optic network across the city, but agreed that a later round of funding may be needed to tackle the program.
City Manager Mike Futrell said officials can meet immediate needs by providing hotspots and computers while viewing the city’s infrastructure as a long-term initiative.
Outside of the digital divide initiatives, officials also discussed spending as much as $ 65,000 on public services such as meals for families in need or support for small businesses. $ 54,000 for public health projects such as temperature control stations in urban facilities or other upgrades; plus other funds for medical care and alternative programs.