Orthodox Jewish Groups Exploit E-Rate Library Subsidy Program

Internet Cafes Get Cash. But What Makes Them Libraries?

Ariel Jankelowitz

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 05, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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In fact, it’s not clear how a Satmar library could ever be expected to meet METRO’s standards for full membership. Members of ultra-Orthodox communities generally don’t attend college, never mind study for master’s degrees in library sciences — a requirement for full membership in METRO and for membership at the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council.

According to METRO, the collegial membership level exists to broaden METRO’s reach. “We’re interested in bringing in organizations that are providing information resources to the communities they serve, and at the very basic level these congregations do that,” METRO’s Kucsma said.

The Southeastern New York Library Resources Council considered having a secondary membership level similar to METRO’s collegial membership. But faced with their state-mandated responsibility to filter E-Rate applicants, council officials decided against it.

“We didn’t like being the gatekeeper for E-Rate, but we had no choice,” Shaloiko said. “We’re doing our due diligence to make sure that it is right for them to receive [E-Rate] benefits” as private libraries under the law, he said.

More Than Their Share?

When ultra-Orthodox collegial METRO members receive E-Rate subsidies, they receive far more in commitments and allocations than is normal among libraries in New York State.

In the three funding years from 2010 to 2012, more than 400 New York State libraries — not including library consortia — received an average commitment of $70,900 from E-Rate. Among the nine ultra-Orthodox collegial METRO members, the average commitment was $161,400 over the same time period — more than twice the general New York State average.

All the ultra-Orthodox groups were relatively new to E-Rate during those three years, and were applying for one-time purchases, like servers and wiring, that are among some of the most expensive sorts of services the program provides. Groups receiving smaller amounts of reimbursements often are only applying for cheaper subsidies for Internet and telephone service, the other main category of E-Rate eligible subsidy. The ultra-Orthodox libraries also receive the highest possible rate of E-Rate reimbursement based on information they submit to USAC.


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