SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced an initiative in Illinois on Wednesday that would expand digital access for low-income households throughout the state.
Through a partnership with PCs for People, a national nonprofit providing refurbished devices, Cook County, and other community partners, the State of Illinois will launch a statewide network to deploy refurbished computers, digital literacy programming and workforce development, officials said.
The new Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network aims to put computers and other mobile devices into the hands of Illinois residents.
Additionally, Gov. Pritzker issued a call to action to public, private and philanthropic sectors to donate used equipment and build on a network that is set to deploy at least 20,000 refurbished computers annually for Illinois families.
“Today I’m announcing a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative to put computers into the hands of those who need them: The Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network. This new collaboration between our Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the nonprofit PCs for People will provide refurbished and modernized computers to those in need,” said Gov. Pritzker. “Today we are kicking this off by providing the first 20,000 devices to families in need all across the state. As we grow the program, it’s businesses and philanthropists that will make this program successful. In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking Illinois companies to join us in this effort, to help build on this initial down payment. When your upgrade cycle gets renewed and your old technology no longer fits the needs of your company, you can donate it, and it will be upgraded for use by a family in need.”
According to US Census data, 1.1 million households in Illinois do not have a computer at home.
“The pandemic has laid bare the tremendous inequities in our communities, including access to technology and digital accessibility. This is particularly important during a time when residents are dependent on technology for remote work and education,” said Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle. “I am grateful for the Governor, my Council of Digital Equity and PCs for People’s partnership in this critical initiative to help narrow the digital divide in Illinois.”
In order to keep up with high demand for devices and connectivity, PCs for People and the state are urging businesses and individuals to refurbish or recycle their technology using PCs for People’s zero-landfill approach.
The organization provides free certified and secure data wiping, and all computer hard drives.
The Jewish United Fund has provided $250,000 in critical seed funding to initiate the Cook County partnership.
The State and its partners have already begun deploying devices through the Metro East location with support from the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund.
“The pandemic has shown millions of homes do not have the connectivity needed for education, information and remote work,” said PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen. “We are honored to partner with Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois, businesses donating technology and an array of community partners to get devices and support to thousands of residents across the state at a time of great need.”
PCs for People will operate the network with close involvement of the Illinois Office of Broadband and various community partners, officials said.
The statewide network includes two central warehouse locations. One is located in southern Cook County and the other one in the Metro East Region.
Each centralized warehouse location will receive, refurbish and then redistribute computers for use by low-income households around the state. The Metro East hub has been active since September and PCs for People and the state will launch the second warehouse center in January 2021.
"Now more than ever before, basic internet is a necessity in our daily lives, yet more than one million households still don't have access to a computer,” said Erin Guthrie, Director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). “As the pandemic has shown, our communities are increasingly dependent on broadband for economic opportunity, e-learning, remote work, telehealth and more. To help close the digital divide facing our communities, DCEO is proud to join Governor Pritzker in launching this first-of-its-kind initiative that will not only deliver computers and digital access, but that will boost the quality of life and expand economic opportunity for all Illinois communities."
The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership is the umbrella organization operating the largest non-profit workforce development system in the nation and serves the City of Chicago and Cook County.
The Partnership will fund nationally-recognized A+ certification workforce training for at least four cohorts per year of 20-25 individuals learning to repair, refurbish and maintain computers through PCs for People’s innovative social enterprise, officials said.
After completing training, participants will be referred for permanent employment with private sector businesses.
“We recognize that digital equity and access are workforce development matters, thus we are pleased to collaborate with PCs for People,” said Karin M. Norington-Reaves, CEO of The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (The Partnership). “As the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) administrator for Cook County, The Partnership will leverage federal WIOA funding to support this important initiative that will provide critical job training and placement during this very challenging time.”
“This new computer network will serve as an amazing resource for Illinois communities and its residents and students,” said Ronda Sauget, Executive Director of the Leadership Council of Southwest Illinois. “The Metro East region has been fortunate to begin work with PCs for People with the launch of community events beginning earlier this year, which has already resulted in hundreds of devices connected for the people in our region who need them most. Thanks to this partnership, our residents, students and communities now have a very low-cost option of having their own computers and uncapped connectivity to the internet. SWIL is proud to partner with the Pritzker administration and PCs for People as they work expand services that will put digital connectivity into the hands of more families in need throughout all of Illinois.”
Illinois households without access to a working computer or internet or those seeking to donate are encouraged to visit PCs for People’s website to register and learn more about how they can request a computer.
For more information on how to recycle technology or to apply for an upgraded device, please visit Illinois.gov/computerequitynetwork.