Cell Phones for the Poor on the Taxpayers’ Dime
Nowadays everyone has a cell phone. In fact, most can’t even recall how life happened before cell phones existed.
But there is one group of Americans who largely remain contract free and live without the convenience of a smart phone. Many in that group are considered America’s poor, who simply cannot afford such a luxury.
This untapped market has not gone unnoticed. The federal government is now busy working with telecommunications companies to make sure everyone enjoys the comfort of cell phone ownership—even if they can’t afford it.
“The program is about peace of mind,” says Gary Carter, manager of national partnerships for Assurance Wireless, a company helping low-income people obtain cell phones. “It’s one less bill that someone has to pay, so they can pay their rent or for day care. … It is a right to have peace of mind.”
Does the federal government, in partnering with companies like Assurance Wireless, see owning a cell phone as a right? Since the program cost $1.32 billion in 2010, it makes it pretty clear that yes, the federal government thinks that owning a cell phone is now a right.
Through programs called Lifeline or SafeLink, low-income people can now apply to receive a cell phone of their very own, free of charge. Some programs allow up to 250 free minutes a month. For a low-income person to qualify for a free cell phone, one must meet federal low-income guidelines or qualify for one of many social service programs, including food stamps or Medicaid or even school lunch programs.
It was in 1996 that Congress extended the program to subsidize low-income households. Previously the money had been used to provide affordable rates for those living in less populated areas where phone service was more expensive. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began subsidizing cell phones.
All Americans with a cell phone or land line provide funds to the federal Universal Service Fund. And as more Americans become eligible for this program, you can bet the more you will have to pay into it.
This should do nothing but frustrate those who regularly pay their cell phone bill.
As the American trend of handouts continues, it makes people that much more dependent on an already broken system.
When someone like Leon Simmons, whose story is told by The New York Times, has the income to afford a land line telephone, high-speed Internet and cable TV, it leaves you wondering why he would be eligible to receive a free cell phone, but he was.
Only in America is poverty described as a person with not only a place to live, but cable TV, Internet, air conditioning and a cell phone.
Simmons’ story is not uncommon. In fact, the SafeLink program is now in 39 states and has more than two million customers nationwide.
“If there is ever an example of social welfare and the entitlement mentality, this is it,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government.
This is a program the federal government and taxpayers cannot afford. Government handouts do nothing but absolve people of personal responsibility. If you can get something for free, why work for it?
As the congressionally created Super Committee gets underway, working to reduce America’s deficit, maybe this program will get a second look. Cell phones are not a necessity and furthering dependence on this social welfare program helps no one.