The FCC has recently modernized and reformed the Lifeline program but still makes it too hard for homeless veterans to get and keep a free Lifeline cell phone.
Briefly, the Lifeline federal benefit program has subsidized landline phones for low-income people for a number of years. A household could apply with proof of low-income or participation in a federal program such as a VA pension (some states). In most states, the income must be less than 135% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). In 2012, that would be folks scraping by on $15,079 for a household of one; $20,425 for a household of two in the 48 states (higher in Alaska and Hawaii).
The FCC rule-makers insult homeless vets in a 2012 report. In paragraph 486, they write (emphasis mine):
The Veterans Homeless Initiative Office, a division of VA, suggested that we include homeless veterans programs as qualifying eligibility criteria. Our rules for demonstrating income eligibility require the subscriber to provide documentation such as an income tax return or current income statement from an employer to establish income is at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The rule does not address, however, situations in which the consumer has no income at all, and therefore lacks any such documentation. We seek comment on measures that would enable veterans who lack any income, but are not otherwise enrolled in a qualifying program, to demonstrate eligibility for Lifeline. For instance, should a low-income consumer that lacks any income be permitted to sign a certification under penalty of perjury that he or she has no income, with some form of additional certification from an authorized VA official, such as an outreach worker or program coordinator, that the person in question is a homeless veteran or at risk of becoming homeless? Given the unique difficulties in verifying transient and homeless Lifeline consumers’ eligibility, are there any additional measures that should be implemented in situations where an eligible veteran has no documentation of income eligibility to minimize waste, fraud, and abuse while ensuring Lifeline access?
Under the Bush Administration, cell phones became eligible for the subsidy but a recipient applicant had to have a permanent address. But while the FCC’s reform now allows a temporary address (ex. shelter, nursing home) to be used by a homeless person, that address still has to be certified every 3-months whereas someone with a permanent address has an annual certification. If the phone isn’t used at least once every 60 days, it’s deactivated.
So just what is this free government largess? Well, a low-income person can get a free basic (no camera/smart phone) phone, 250 minutes, and 250 text messages per month from Assurance (Virgin); Safelink (Trac phone); Reach Out (Nexus).
Let’s see. That’s 4 hours and 16 minutes a month. Or about an hour a week to talk to a family member, a friend, or make an appointment. A little comfort and security. I’m good with it. FCC to disadvantaged veterans: “Thank you for your service but we’d rather you were–completely–invisible and voiceless.”
FCC to disadvantaged veterans: “Thank you for your service but we’d rather you were–completely–invisible and voiceless.”