What started out as an effort by President Reagan to help poor people in rural areas have a phone in cases of emergency has mushroomed into what critics suspect is a new welfare program.
"The cost has gone from $143 million a few years ago to $2.2 billion today," Republican Louisiana Sen. David Vitter said, noting that today's cost is 15 times what it was.
The cost of the program increased dramatically after cellphones were added in 2008. Only low-income people on welfare and food stamps legally qualify, but some lawmakers say the program is out of control.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, was incensed when she got an offer of a free phone.
"I got solicitation for a free phone at my apartment, which is certainly not a building where you're going to have people who are qualified for free phones. ... There is clearly money being wasted here."
And Vitter adds, "The FCC, itself, said in a recent year there were 270,000 beneficiaries that had more than one of these subsidized cellphones. That's completely against the law right there."
Funded by a small tax on all phone bills, the program has exploded -- with companies advertising free phones and offering 250 minutes.
Harold Feld of a group called Public Knowledge notes, "you have a lot of these prepaid-phone, no-contract options that are obviously very popular."
The FCC told lawmakers the top five companies can't verify the eligibility of 41 percent of those who get phones.
"I hear from law enforcement that these phones are often found at crime scenes and are used in drug deals," Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas said. "Why? It's because you can't trace them."
"Just handing out phones willy nilly and allowing them to be sold on the black market," Sen. McCaskill said. "This isn't the way to do it, and we need to stop."
Some recipients famously called them "Obama phones," with one boasting to the media during the election that minorities should support the president precisely because he gave them free cellphones.
That is not true, and many are appalled by the abuse in the program. One supporter, however, argues cellphones are helpful because they're not just for emergencies:
"It's how we find jobs, it's how we now participate in all the activities in the economy," Feld said.
But McCaskill says those looking for work could simply check out a phone from the unemployment office or a shelter.
With so much abuse in the current program, she is now concerned about some new proposals: "What's really worrisome to me is now the FCC wants to expand to this program into broadband. That's a very bad idea, I think."
She says such a waste of money makes taxpayers think government just isn't paying attention. And she says the current program is so far out of control, we should simply scrap it and start over, not expand it.
Lawmakers warn cost of federal free phone program spinning out of control | Fox News
Should the Government give out free cell phones?
There are a number of inaccuracies in that article. The phones in the LifeLine program are NOT free; they are discounted. They are NOT "untraceable." The phone companies that offer "untraceable" phones are not part of the LifeLine Program, although they do also market to low-income people. The LifeLine phones and service are provided by the same companies that you & I use, and there is nothing wrong or illegal with a company advertising its services, so I'm not sure why this one Rep is so up-in-arms about getting an ad for a "free phone." She wouldn't qualify for it, and then the company would steer her to one of their other products that she would be able to get. I'm not *****ing about the ads on the radio for "no payments for three years on your approved credit," that I don't qualify for. Are there problems with the program? Probably, but I don't think scrapping it and trying to start fresh is the answer. The answer is to tighten up the qualification process and to cut people off ASAP if they don't update their annual eligibility on time. I also think eligibility could be updated every six months easily because so many things are computerized & automated, and with access to a cell phone it should be simple for the recipient.
Here is a less-biased source than Faux News:
Lifeline: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Consumers | FCC.gov
David Letterman is retiring. Such great memories of watching him over the past thirty-two years!
ITA that alot of things are incorrect in this article.
They aren't only for people on welfare. People on SSI/SSDI can qualify for them.
Checking their eligibilty is so easy. All they need is the persons SS# and it comes up automatically what programs (food stamps, ssdi, unemployment) they are on. And if they couldn't check it they wouldn't give the person one.
I can only agree to what has been said. I think the program is fine but I'm sure there are abuses just like anything. Doesn't mean we should end the program completely and that article is full of inaccuracies.
Mom to Elizabeth (5) and Corinne (3)
It used to be a landline but now they have moved to cell phone and yes, a phone for emergency usage as well as being able to get calls about jobs is a necessity to me. The minutes given doesn't allow for constant usage.
Mom to Elizabeth (5) and Corinne (3)
I believe if the Government had plenty of money for everything it needed, that this would be a great program. However, I do believe cuts have to be made somewhere, and that this is a good place to start. I do think that if this program is taking money away from other, more pressing needs, than it should be cut. I do not believe that a cell phone is a necessity.
Landlines are becoming obsolete. I don't even know where the closest pay phone is should I have an emergency.
There are plenty of things I think should be cut but someone finds it important. I think people being able to call for emergency services, having access to a phone to call employers and to have a contact to provide for jobs they become employed for is important.
I never understand this, people want others to get off welfare but maintain that the first cuts to be done are for people that are getting assistance? I don't understand. Would you rather that the people NOT abusing the program have no means to contact emergency help or for those looking for work, have no phone number to supply to potential employers which will basically cut them out of any prospect of a job?
Last edited by Jessica80; 04-23-2013 at 07:04 PM. Reason: stupid mistake
Mom to Elizabeth (5) and Corinne (3)
DH-Aug 30th 1997 Josiah - 6/3/02 Isaac 7/31/03
To me, a necessity is something you can not live without. Food, water, shelter. Yes, a cell phone is great, but I do not believe it falls under that category of necessity. I have only had a cell phone for the last two years. I made it the other 30 years of my life. If I broke down while driving, I walked to the nearest house or business to use the phone. I am not saying a cell phone is not a great, it is. It is not required for survival though.
I also have had family growing up that did not have a phone. They put my mother down as an emergency contact. If a potential employer needed to contact them, they called my mother and she passed the message along. With the prevalence of phones today, I find it hard to believe that someone would have no one they know, that could give them a phone message.
Again, it is a nice idea if there was plenty of money, but there is not. I am sure that some people would say the answer is to raise taxes. I do not believe this is the answer though.