Bipartisan legislation would repurpose refurbished government computers to veterans, students, seniors
Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Rob Wittman (R-VA-01), and Elaine Luria (D-VA-02) have reintroduced bipartisan legislation that would help provide federal surplus and retired computers to non-profit computer refurbishers, who would then repair and distribute these computers to veterans, low-income individuals, students, and seniors in need.
In 1949, Congress created the Federal Surplus Personal Property Program through the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act. This program transfers nonessential federal property from the federal government to authorized State Agencies for Surplus Property, who then serve local units of government, businesses, nonprofits, and other eligible recipients.
However, not all of this property — including computers and other technology equipment — is immediately usable, and the federal government does not currently have the authority to transfer this repairable equipment to third-party computer refurbishers. This restriction has resulted in waste and inefficiency, as many recipients lack the funds or capacity to refurbish computers they receive through this program.
To fix this issue, the bipartisan Computers for Veterans and Students Act would allow certified, nonprofit refurbishing companies to directly obtain, refurbish, and distribute repairable, surplus government computers to serve veterans, students, and seniors in need. Additionally, the legislation would require each nonprofit computer refurbisher receiving computers to provide training programs in the use of this technology.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, we saw more jobs and more hiring processes move online. However, many low-income households, seniors, and homeless veterans have been unable to access a laptop or desktop computer — putting them at a significant disadvantage,” said Spanberger. “Our Computers for Veterans and Students Act takes a commonsense step towards closing this opportunity gap by providing veterans and students with the tools they need to succeed. By cutting unnecessary red tape and allowing additional government computers to enter the refurbishment process, our bipartisan bill would address a pressing need in our communities. I’d like to thank my Virginia colleagues Congressman Wittman and Congresswoman Luria for joining this effort to make sure that those who have selflessly served receive equal access to new opportunities.”
“It is an honor to introduce this bipartisan legislation to help ensure veterans and students have the technology they need to be successful,” said Wittman. “This is a prime example of innovative non-profits working hand-in-hand with the government to provide effective solutions for our nation’s veterans. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been working hard to close the digital divide and to provide for those who fought for us. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid plain how important it is for all Americans to have access to technology, and this legislation helps provide access to the people who have served our nation and to those who need it most.”
“The Computers for Veterans and Students Act will help Virginians in need connect with the world and bridge the digital divide that has only grown since the pandemic,” said Luria. “Getting technology in the hands of veterans, students, persons with disabilities, low-income individuals, or seniors can be life-changing, and many communities in Coastal Virginia could benefit from this bipartisan legislation.”
An example non-profit that would help veterans and students receive these refurbished computers is Tech for Troops — a Virginia-based, veteran-staffed and operated organization. Tech for Troops provides homeless, unemployed, and disabled veterans and their families with the skills, computer technology, and IT workforce training to compete in an increasingly online-based economy. In addition to this work, they also recycle and repurpose working or non-working computers, laptops, network gear, and accessories — with all proceeds from e-waste recycling going directly to veteran-focused education initiatives.
“As a veteran myself, it means so much to be able to help and give back to fellow Veterans who need it most,” said Mark Casper, CEO, Tech For Troops. “I am also personally honored and excited that Rep. Spanberger has agreed to support Tech For Troops and other non-profits in our mission to provide Digital Inclusion across the USA.”
Tech for Troops is a member of the Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse, which is comprised of more than 90 nonprofit computer refurbishers. AFTRR members — who would be example organizations eligible for the benefits of the Computers for Veterans and Students Act — are vetted and need to adhere to criteria, including being a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in good standing, having a commitment to ending the digital divide, and ensuring that all e-waste go to certified recyclers.
“COVID-19 has exposed how vast the digital divide is across America with an estimated 55 million people without a computer, and unable to thrive in our digitally-connected society. They are cut off from education, telehealth, finance, employment, community, and hope. With simple and straightforward changes to the federal IT asset disposal process, the number of federal surplus computers directed to nonprofit computer refurbishers – organizations 100 percent focused on closing the digital divide – would increase,” said Scot Henley, executive director, Digitunity. “These computers would then be repaired or refurbished, and distributed to people in need, such as veterans, low-income students, those with disabilities, older adults, etc. and paired with digital literacy programs. Everyone who needs a computer should have one.”
The Computers for Veterans and Students Act is also backed by the National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property, which is tasked with ensuring the fair and equitable distribution of Federal surplus property.