Free Cell Phones

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AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6567
Free Cell Phones

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?

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

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

Sapphire Sunsets's picture
Joined: 05/19/02
Posts: 672

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.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

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.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6567

Let me ask a little different of a question along the same line. Do you think a cell phone is a necessity that the government should be paying for?

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

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.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6567

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.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

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?

Rivergallery's picture
Joined: 05/23/03
Posts: 1301

"Jessica80" wrote:

Landlines are become 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?

Not sure those people couldn't afford a simple phone There are pay as you go phones that are under $7 a month. If they have no TV/Cable, no homephone, no computer.. then cut cigarettes, or alchohol. or a gallon of icecream, etcetc. I think most can come up with $7 a month from somewhere.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6567

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.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

I think it is crazy to have to use someone else's phone for your personal business. If I was hiring, I would probably avoid hiring someone who didn't have a phone. How does that reflect on them? It appears as if you can't stay put long enough to get a phone. Not someone I would want to consider offering a job to.

I think a phone is a necessity. They have just moved from landlines to cell phones because, well, it's 2013.

RG~I think you make some big assumptions on people that are obtaining these phones. How do you know they all smoke, drink and eat ice cream. Your statements reflect your dislike of people needing assistance and not an accurate description on who is really using help.

I have never seen a 7.00 month cell phone plan. My mom prepays her phone and still spends more than that. Weird.

Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1686

"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

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.

This is a good place to start?

We had a similar debate not too long ago.

People have no idea how much we have come to rely on cell phones for everything. My daughter had an accident (she's fine) and I got a call from the sheriff on his cell phone. I had already left work and heading toward my other daughter's dentist appt. 50 miles away. Had I not had a cell phone, I wouldn't been notified until about 5 hours after it happened. The ER also called to get authorization to treat. I just can't imagine...

There are just so many things - callbacks for job interviews, making appointments, getting calls from kids' schools, emergencies - that make cell phones such a useful tool.

250 minutes should be enough to use the cell phone for its intended purpose but not enough to just sit and text/talk all day.

indigoV51's picture
Joined: 09/19/03
Posts: 101

"Rivergallery" wrote:

Not sure those people couldn't afford a simple phone There are pay as you go phones that are under $7 a month. If they have no TV/Cable, no homephone, no computer.. then cut cigarettes, or alchohol. or a gallon of icecream, etcetc. I think most can come up with $7 a month from somewhere.

You have to understand that not everyone lives where you do. Around here there is no land line company. The only companies that offer cheaper phones is cell phone services. But they are $30 a month. It is absolutely insulting that you feel everyone on assistance are users.

Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1686

"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

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.

Actually, you can live without shelter. We have many homeless people in my area unfortunately. There are many things we are physically capable of living without that are subsidized for those who can't afford the full price.

Schools have to be able to get ahold of an emergency contact in an emergency. Not everyone has family/friends so it's just them. You have no idea how frustrating it gets when you see a student in the health office for hours because no one can be reached. (We've had students whose injuries required them to go the ER. Fortunately those parents could be reached in a reasonable amount of time.)

There are so many other places we could cut spending. Cutting off communication from the modern world is not the answer.

ETA: I've had students who were living in hotels. I think it would be completely unprofessional for an adult looking for work to use the hotel's phone number and have the company call the hotel to leave a message for a guest to set up an interview.

Joined: 05/31/06
Posts: 4780

"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

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.

You also don't have a job and stay at home with children who don't go to school all day. Frankly I don't see you trying too hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Imagine a situation like the one that ethanwinfield describes, then imagine if you would feel it necessary or not to be reachable. For people living in more real world life situations, they may consider it a necessity to have ways to be in touch with employers, or with their children. I support that. If you had some numbers to back up your position of this being a place for the government to "start" (versus, say, the defense budget, or corn subsidies, etc) your argument would perhaps be more credible. If its just that you, in your very simplistic life don't need a cell phone, well, few people live like you.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

I believe a phone is a necessity for modern life, and I don't like the idea of having to let my neighbor know that I'm looking for a job or have him be able to listen in on a welfare screening interview, and I don't like the idea of a sick kid sitting at school because there was no way to get hold of her mother because the "emergency contact" person went grocery shopping. No thank you! The LifeLine program gives people the choice of landline or cell phone, but not both, and it's limited to one discounted service per household, no matter how many people live in that household. I don't find that extremely generous, or even beyond the ordinary. The LifeLine cell phone plan offers 250 prepaid minutes a month, and the average discount provided currently is about $9.25 per month; if you want to use more minutes, you pay for them at market rate.

This program is such a tiny fraction of our country's $3,803,000,000,000 budget. It's 0.058%. That would be a couple of dollars A YEAR out of your annual household budget. Surely most of us can do without upgrading one fast-food meal or making one stop at the coffee shop to give a poor person a LIFELINE. And I think it's really worth noting that the reforms to this program do seem to be working. In the first six months that the new database was in effect, the cost savings from eliminating fraud totalled $213 million. I can't link to the document but you can read it here, scroll down to "Lifeline Year-End Savings Report Public Notice": Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers | FCC.gov

fuchsiasky's picture
Joined: 11/16/07
Posts: 955

"Rivergallery" wrote:

Not sure those people couldn't afford a simple phone There are pay as you go phones that are under $7 a month. If they have no TV/Cable, no homephone, no computer.. then cut cigarettes, or alchohol. or a gallon of icecream, etcetc. I think most can come up with $7 a month from somewhere.

Really? I have an income and right now I can't find an extra $7 a month. It isn't always as easy as to cut things out. Sometimes there is nothing left to cut out.

And there are no $7 a month plans that I could find. With Rob in hospital he needs a phone the cheapest we could get was $15 a month for texting only. And that extra $15 leaves me with no lunches for the month beyond peanut butter and bread.

I would rather people have a chance have a phone number and get a job then to support them on welfare and keep them in poverty.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

The cheapest plan I could find in my area that does not require a long-term contract is $15/month for 50 minutes of airtime, and that doesn't include the phone or taxes. Additional minutes are $0.20 so 250 minutes would be about $55/month. The cheapest prepaid with unlimited minutes is the plan DH has and it's $50/month flat including taxes, and the phone was another $50.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6567

You all have brought up some good points that I had not thought about. I will need to come back to this after I have thought through them and have done some more research.

SID081108's picture
Joined: 06/03/09
Posts: 1348

"Rivergallery" wrote:

Not sure those people couldn't afford a simple phone There are pay as you go phones that are under $7 a month. If they have no TV/Cable, no homephone, no computer.. then cut cigarettes, or alchohol. or a gallon of icecream, etcetc. I think most can come up with $7 a month from somewhere.

It sounds to me like you are assuming that the majority of people on welfare/assistance (as mentioned earlier, this includes people on SSI/SSDI) are using their money to smoke or drink (or on junk food). To me, this is no different than judging all Christians or Muslims by the acts of a few extremists....it's simply not fair, nor is it accurate.

I agree with Stacey completely...the program rules need to be tightened up to try to prevent abuse, but I don't have an issue with it continuing and think many of these people probably legitimately need a phone for emergencies as well as to get a job (or better job) to try to get themselves out of the system. It won't help anything to cut off programs that potentially help people improve their lives.