Homeless veteran eligibility and the Lifeline free cell phone program


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.” 

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10 Responses to Homeless veteran eligibility and the Lifeline free cell phone program

  1. I am trying to find a Cellphone program for a Disabled War Veteran/Food Stamp reciprient

  2. SquidlyOne says:

    Can’t eat a cell phone or keep warm with one. Family and friends have abandoned disabled Vets which is why they become homeless in the first place. Seems as though when a person becomes disabled they are discarded because people don’t want to “lower” their quality of life or take time away from their social life to deal with it. Make no mistake about it, homeless disabled Vets have no one to call anyway. The only hope homeless disabled Vets have (besides getting their claims approved) is the HUD-VASH vouchers. Unfortunately the vA treats homeless claims like they do claims for compensation. I was denied HUD-VASH vouchers because I was not “homeless” enough while the vA took co-pays out of of what little compensation I did get. If it wasn’t for the retro pay on my comp claim I would still be sleeping in my van and starving. It was an act of God that I got out of that situation. If it was up to the vA, I would be dead already.

    You need to have a physical address to get food stamps….ha…ha…ha.. got ya! 🙂

    • Kiedove says:

      Squidly, I think homeless folks CAN get food support (snap/food stamps) but the card has to be sent to a representative helping one.
      http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/homeless-persons-rights-under-the-snapsnapfood-stamp-program/
      I think in the case of veterans, the VA should have a social work department, nearest to the veteran, where the benefit card can be sent and picked up. Or the American Legion, VFW, etc could help. VA canteens should accept the SNAP card so vets can get a hot meal. Service organizations that sell booze should be able to take the card it for a meal as well.
      In terms of the phone, homeless folks need a phone because thugs often like to beat them up. They can’t call for help (police/ambulance) without a cell phone for emergencies like this.

      • SquidlyOne says:

        Sounds good on paper as theory but it doesn’t apply in my state or some others. The VA homeless social worker wouldn’t even return my calls. I got in once in a year’s time to see him. There is no such program given by the VA nor do they handle any of that. The groups you mention won’t even touch the subject, period. The government in my state doesn’t want people coming in from other places and taking their funds away. The FEDS don’t even enforce their own programs. You find out just how much of a scam these things are when you are at the bottom. Until then you are told it is supposed to work that way, but in reality it’s just a big lie. Who is going to defend the homeless? ANSWER: absolutely no body!

        In my state when you do get food stamps, you are required to work so long each week at a local sweatshop. I guess the saving grace is that disabled Vets are exempt from working there at the sweatshop or looking for work (if they can prove they are disabled). Also my state has decent “deductions” on income for heating bills against food stamps when a person actually has a place to live. Actually homeless disabled Vets are pretty much left alone if not treated like lepers. Everyone knows they don’t have anything of value and can be “diseased”. When a disabled Vet becomes homeless they might as well be tossed to the wolves. Depending on their disabilities, it is just a matter of time before the Grim Reaper comes to collect. Many die, abandoned and neglected…

        • Kiedove says:

          I agree. Think of all those empty churches (Mon-Sat.) and government buildings that go unused, you see how callous and unforgiving our society really is. Housing could be provided but the “not in my backyard” mentality prevails. Zoning laws are used as roadblocks.
          The HUD-VASH voucher program is grossly underfunded. This country is in tough shape. We need leaders like the late Dorothy Day’s work in the Bowery and Mother Teresa, ordinary who just started to help people in dire straights.

          • SquidlyOne says:

            Independent and dependent Individuals consume more. Thou shalt not decrease consumption according to the bottom line holy scrolls of the behemouth corporations. People in countries historically ravaged by war tend to keep the families and neighbors together in small bands to share resources. That is the only way they can survive. No ONE is better off than the others. I’ve seen this with my own eyes.

            Individuals are more easily controlled and are more apt to accept the system of control based on self reliance of the system itself. The “homeless” situation is a demonstration by the control system that the individual can suffer dire circumstances if that control is not accepted or complied with.

    • I do have a permanent address…. 40 Broad St, Apt. 1205, Middletown, Ct. 06457

  3. Not exactly, according to fact check. George Bush had nothing to do with requiring a “permanent address” for subsidized cell phones, as it is a product of the Obama administration beginning in 2008. I know the “blame the GOP for all of America’s woes” is very popular, but, in this case, its just not true. Source: Fact Check:
    http://www.factcheck.org/2009/10/the-obama-phone/

    • KC says:

      If you read your own link it also clearly states that no taxpayer money is used making this once again a NON-political issue. It speaks to the ‘subsidy’ offered the companies that offer the free phones. I didn’t take anything from Mr. NOD’s article as being anything other than illustrative of the program and the address requirement.

    • Kiedove says:

      Joe, from my research, the discount (subsidy-about $9-10 per month) was allowed to be applied to cell phone minutes under the Bush Administration–an improvement! For the free cell services, the companies supply a cheap bar phone (may be refurbished) from their own inventory and budget. The minutes allowed have improved from the Fact Check article (with some companies).under the Obama Administration and more competition among carriers. The Assurance (Virgin) plan is attractive because a person can add 250 minutes for $5 per month. My issue with the Obama Administration reform is that is that homeless people should be treated like everyone else enrolled for the Lifeline cell program and probably better since their problems and stresses are so much worse. They are vulnerable and need those phones.
      Note: The big companies like AT & T will also have Lifeline discounts but I’m not aware of other free phone, 250 free talk and text yet. What’s good about the free talk is that I assume there are no taxes and fees added on–a barrier to cell phone use for homeless vets.

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