Who is About to Lose their ACP Discount?

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Digital Beat

Who is About to Lose their ACP Discount?

Kevin Taglang

The Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), established in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is expected to end this Spring if it does not receive additional funding from Congress soon. The funding situation is so dire that this week the FCC halted any new enrollments in the program. For millions of people eligible for the ACP, affordable broadband service is getting harder to obtain. And, as ACP funding dwindles, over 23 million households relying on the program for affordable broadband are facing a $30 per month increase in their internet access bills. For many, this will lead to hard decisions about choosing between staying connected and buying groceries or medical care

Drew Garner

But who are the people who qualify for the ACP? Who are the people at risk of losing service if ACP is not refunded? In less than three years since the FCC launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (the precursor to ACP), over 23 million households have enrolled in ACP. But over 50 million households are eligible for the benefit, meaning that more than half the households Congress intended to aid are not yet enjoying more affordable broadband service. Read on to understand who these people are and why the ACP is so valuable to them

ACP Eligibility

There are a number of ways that a household can demonstrate that it qualifies for ACP, but participation in another federal assistance program is the most common path into ACP. So perhaps the best way to understand who uses the ACP is by understanding the other programs they use, which confer ACP eligibility.

Participation in these assistance programs qualify a household to enroll in ACP:

  • Lifeline
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) (including Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program (Section 8 Vouchers), Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA)/202/811, Public Housing, and Affordable Housing Programs for American Indians, Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians)
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
  • Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program, including at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) schools, or
  • Federal Pell Grant.

Although there is an array of (often confusing) ways someone can qualify for and remain in these programs, many boil down to income. For the most part, individuals enrolled in the ACP probably have incomes under $20,000 per year; families of four have combined incomes under $40,000/year. Roughly speaking, these are the income thresholds for the most common programs that qualify a person for the ACP—SNAP and Medicaid.

Here we look at who's eligible for and who participates in some of these assistance programs. By understanding these programs, we can learn a little bit about the lives of ACP participants and why the ACP is important to them.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

When applying for their ACP benefit, nearly 38 percent of ACP applicants indicate they are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As of April 2023, 41.9 million people in 22.2 million households received SNAP benefits. That translates to approximately 17 percent of all U.S. households.

SNAP is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, providing food benefits to low-income families to supplement their grocery budget so they can afford the nutritious food essential to health and well-being. SNAP benefits can be used for fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, and fish; dairy products; breads and cereals; non-alcoholic beverages; and seeds and plants, which produce food for the household to eat.

States have a certain amount of latitude in how they administer the SNAP program. For example, they can decide how broadly to extend its benefits to people receiving other TANF-funded benefits, whether to count vehicles as household assets, and whether to count child support payments as income.

To qualify to participate in SNAP, a household's gross monthly income generally must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line. For one person, that's $1,580/month; for a family of four, $3,250/month. In addition, household assets must fall below certain limits: households without a member aged 60 or older or who have a disability must have assets of $2,750 or less, and households with such a member must have assets of $4,250 or less. In addition, households receiving other types of aid, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), may be eligible for SNAP automatically.

By way of example, more than 1 in 6 Louisiana residents (18% in all) depend on SNAP to afford food. In Louisiana more than:

  • 72 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children,
  • 36 percent are in families with members who are older adults or are disabled, and
  • 39 percent are in working families.

in 2020, the average SNAP household in Louisiana received $268/month to buy healthy food. SNAP households with older adults received $129/month; households with non-elderly, disabled individuals received $220/month; working households received $321/month; and households with children received $428/month.

SNAP has two sets of work requirements: the general work requirements and the able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) work requirements.

  • The general work requirements include registering for work, participating in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) or workfare if assigned by your state SNAP agency, taking a suitable job if offered, and not voluntarily quitting a job or reducing your work hours below 30 hours a week without good reason.
  • For those between the ages of 18 and 50 who are able to work and don’t have any dependents, there is an additional work requirement to get SNAP for more than 3 months in 3 years (the time limit):
    • Work at least 80 hours a month (including unpaid volunteer work);
    • Participate in a work program at least 80 hours a month (a work program could be SNAP Employment and Training or another federal, state, or local work program);
    • Participate in a combination of work and work program hours for a total of at least 80 hours a month; and
    • Participate in workfare for the number of hours assigned to the participant each month. (The number of hours will depend on the amount of the participant's SNAP benefit.)

Non-Hispanic White people accounted for 44.6% of adult SNAP recipients and 31.5% of child recipients in 2020. The vast majority of both adult and child recipients were born in the United States—82.3% and 97.1%, respectively. Among adult recipients, 62.4% had a high school diploma or less education in 2020. And despite the program’s work requirements, 61.6% said they had not been employed at all that year. More than six-in-ten of these households (61.7%) reported having no children in 2020, including 34.4% who were people living alone. More than 40% of SNAP-receiving households were in the South, the highest percentage of any region.

In New Mexico, 22.9 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits—the highest of any state, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of SNAP recipient figures and Census Bureau population estimates for July 2022. The District of Columbia is next-highest at 21.4 percent, followed by Oregon at 17.8 percent and West Virginia at 17.7 percent.


Another 37 percent of ACP applicants participate in Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that helps cover medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. As of 2023, nearly 100 million people participated in Medicaid.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has general rules that all state Medicaid programs must follow, but each state runs its own program. This means eligibility requirements and benefits can vary from state to state.

To participate in Medicaid, federal law requires states to cover certain groups of individuals. Low-income families, qualified pregnant women and children, and individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are examples of mandatory eligibility groups. States have additional options for coverage and may choose to cover other groups, such as individuals receiving home and community-based services and children in foster care who are not otherwise eligible.

Many states have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income adults. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 created the opportunity for states to expand Medicaid to cover nearly all low-income Americans under age 65. Eligibility for children was extended to at least 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) in every state (most states cover children to higher income levels), and states were given the option to extend eligibility to adults with income at or below 133 percent of the FPL. Most states have chosen to expand coverage to adults, and those that have not yet expanded may choose to do so at any time. 

In Maine, adults are eligible for Medicaid if their income is below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Children 18 and under are eligible if household income is 300 percent of FPL or less. 

In 2021, Medicaid covered four in ten children, eight in ten children in poverty, one in six adults, and almost half of adults in poverty. Relative to White children and adults, Medicaid covers a higher share of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian American Native (AIAN) children and adults. Medicaid covers 43 percent of nonelderly, noninstitutionalized adults with disabilities(1). Medicaid covers 41 percent of all births in the United States, nearly half of children with special health care needs, five in eight nursing home residents, 23 percent of non-elderly adults with any mental illness, and 40 percent of non-elderly adults with HIV. Among the non-elderly covered by Medicaid, half are children under age 19; six in ten are people of color, 57 percent are female; and seven in ten are in a family with a full or part-time worker. Even though most adult Medicaid enrollees are working, many do not have an offer of employer-sponsored coverage, or it is not affordable.

Supplemental Security Income

Created in 1972, the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly cash assistance to disabled or older people who have little income and few assets. Like the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, commonly known as Social Security, SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

In December 2022, 7.5 million people collected SSI benefits. In most states, SSI beneficiaries are automatically eligible for Medicaid.

Less than 8 percent of ACP applicants proved their eligibility by noting that they participate in SSI.

SSI provides monthly payments to adults and children who have income and resources below specific financial limits, and who meet one of the following criteria:

  • They are age 65 or older.
  • They are blind.
  • They have a medical condition that keeps them from working, which is expected to last one year or result in death.

The amount of income one can receive each month while still getting SSI depends partly on where one lives. SSI is generally for individuals who don’t earn more than $1,971 from work each month. The income limit increases for couples and when parents apply for children. Eligibility is also determined by other sources of income besides a job, like disability benefits, unemployment, and pensions. "Common resources"—vehicles and money in bank accounts—also factor in. To be eligible for SSI, resources cannot be more than $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples.(2) For a parent applying for a child, these numbers increase by $2,000.

If you’re age 64 or younger, you must have a disability that: 

  • Affects your ability to work for a year or more, or
  • Will result in death, or
  • Severely limits daily activity (for children with disabilities).

Even those who have a disability, must prove they have earned less than $1,550 from work per month in the month they apply for SSI. Citizens age 65 or older don’t need to have a disability to get SSI.

The SSA reduces these benefit amounts for beneficiaries who have other sources of income or live in a Medicaid facility or with someone who provides support. For example, while SSA exempts (or “disregards”) the first $20 per month of unearned income when determining a person’s SSI eligibility and benefit levels, any income above that amount from sources such as Social Security benefits, pensions, interest, and child support is subtracted from SSI benefits. Similarly, SSA disregards the first $65 per month of earnings, but each dollar of earnings above that level typically reduces SSI benefits by 50 cents. Such reductions lowered the average SSI monthly benefit to $621 in December 2022.

More than half of SSI beneficiaries have no other source of income. 

Eligibility criteria for SSI are strict. All applicants must meet SSI’s stringent financial criteria, and applicants for disability benefits must also meet the same rigorous medical criteria used for Social Security Disability Insurance. Most applications for SSI disability benefits are rejected. SSA denies applicants who are technically disqualified (mainly because they have income or assets above the limits for eligibility) and sends the rest to state disability determination services for medical evaluation.

  • 61% of SSI applications are denied
    • 46% for medical reasons
    • 15% for technical reasons

Of the 39 percent of applications that win approval, three percent are approved on reconsideration and 7 percent on appeal to an administrative law judge.

Before any state supplement, and without income deductions, SSI benefits are about three-fourths of the poverty line for a single person. Thus, while SSI alone is not enough to lift someone living independently above the poverty line, it reduces hardship and lessens the need for support from family members. But, in 2016, roughly half of all beneficiaries had incomes below the federal poverty line even with their SSI benefits.

The Importance of ACP to Low-Income Households

For ACP recipients, taking a bill off their plate means a lot, both financially and psychologically. 

A chorus of disparate voices, some with lived experience, some who work on the frontlines, are asking in unison for this program to be extended. ​In a recent St Louis Post-Dispatch op-ed, ACP participant Kamesha Scott wrote:

In this economy, life as a working mom and caregiver for my grandma makes me feel like a magician. I pull rabbits out of my hat constantly. Every day, I somehow make a dollar out of 15 cents. Whether it’s the car payment, utilities, childcare, or rent, the economy does a great disappearing act with my income. A new program to lower the cost of my monthly internet, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has helped my daily magic show. It’s why I’m surprised to hear politicians in Washington are talking about letting it vanish in April.

A national survey of ACP participants conducted by Benenson Strategy Group in collaboration with Comcast found that if they lose ACP eligibility:

  • 65% of ACP participants fear losing their job or their household’s primary source of income.
  • 75% of ACP participants fear losing access to important healthcare services, like online appointments or prescription medicine refills.
  • 81% of ACP parents worry about their children falling behind in school.

While the latest and greatest in tech, from AI to VR headsets, may grab our attention, we need to remember how so many people are so close to disconnection, to losing access to remote work and school, to telehealth and the thousands of mundane tasks that require the internet. 


  1. These people are defined as having one (or more) difficulties related to hearing, vision, cognition, ambulation, self-care, or independent living.
  2. Of note, asset limits have been frozen since 1989, and the income disregards have remained the same since SSI’s launch in 1974, preventing many older adults and disabled people in need from qualifying. If asset limits had been adjusted for inflation since 1972, an individual would be able to have up to $9,000 in assets and a couple would be able to have over $12,000.

    Kevin Taglang is the Executive Editor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society; Drew Garner is Benton's Director of Policy Engagement.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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