The Voluntary Action Center (VAC), Downtown Optimist Club, and city of Columbia are accepting applications for eligible, low-income residents of Columbia to receive a computer.

Advocates say having a computer is more important now than ever thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Many doctor’s office have increased their telehealth appointments and more schoolchildren are learning from home.

Olivia Little, Program Coordinator and Social Services Specialist for VAC said,

“Most years (the program) is intended for children to do schoolwork so the requirements typically include that you have a school-aged child … but this year we’ve opened up the requirements, so you just need to be within 200% of the federal poverty guideline in Boone County this year,” said Olivia Little, program coordinator and social services specialist for the VAC.

The Columbia City Council approved the city’s participation in the giveaway in 2003. Nearly 750 computers have gone out to people in need since then.

Little says typically the city has between 30 and 50 computers available to give out each year and is hoping for 50 this year amid high demand. The VAC find the clients who are eligible for the program, Little said. She said if clients want to sign up and request an application they can call VAC at 573-874-2273.

“There have been some applications this year for those who do not have children in the home, which we were definitely expecting with the pandemic this year with everything being so reliant on technology right now there’s a lot of of other reasons people might need a computer in the home,” Little said.

Rachel Mutrux, senior program director of the Missouri Telehealth Network and Show-Me ECHO, said those programs have seen increased use since the start of the pandemic.

“There was a huge amount of increase, and we see that both in behavioral health services as well as primary care services and other specialty services,” Mutrux said.

Virtual Care Visits for fiscal years 2019, 2020, 2021. Fiscal years for MU Health run from July 1st – June 30th of each year.

University of Missouri Health Care reports telehealth visits in fiscal 2021 have already surpassed the number of visits in fiscal 2020 by more than 2,000. MU Health saw a huge increase from the 2019 fiscal year to the 2020 fiscal year by an increase of 48,746 visits. That’s an increase of over 2,200%.

And access to telehealth visits requires access to sufficient technology and service.

“We would typically say anyone that has a device with a camera should be able to access telehealth, as long as they have adequate broadband service or cellular coverage,” Mutrux said. “In fact, we’ve partnered with the state to get 10,000 hotspots out to patients across Missouri, so that they could utilize telemedicine to see their own health care providers.”

Another spike in technology use during the pandemic is the switch to virtual learning. Columbia Public Schools has been virtual for most of the school year and just went back to a hybrid/in-person program this week. Ariel Schwarting, a third-grade teacher at CPS and one of the co-presidents of the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, has spent most of her school year teaching 15 students virtually.

Schwarting said CPS provided all of its students with an iPad so they didn’t have issues with kids not having a device. But internet connectivity and having a strong internet connection still create challenges.

“I think we’ve learned just with this year that not only technology access but also internet access is extremely important for everyone in our community and across our county,” Schwarting said. “If it wasn’t for technology and the internet, we would have no way to really communicate and see kids face to face … and I think that’s definitely important.”

Individuals who wish to sign up for the Homes for Computers program have until Jan. 29 to submit an application. Recipients of the computers will receive them on Feb. 27 at the Optimist building in Columbia.

Columbia City Government / Columbia Video / Coronavirus / News / Politics / Top Stories / Video