Millions of people think the free government cell phone program will always be there when they need it most. But that almost changed last week in Washington, DC.
You might not think a 207-143 vote looks very close. But we think it’s far too close for comfort when the subject of the vote was the possibility of ending the free government cell phone program.
That was the vote when the House of Representatives voted down legislation that would have cut off subsidies that pay for the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program. You have to give the bills supporters a little bit of credit for their honesty. Instead of hiding the purpose of the bill behind some deceptive name (as so often happens in the District of Columbia), this bill was titled the “End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act.”
Just to be clear, the vote was 207-143 in favor of killing the free government cell phone program. Luckily, this was one of those odd situations that required 2/3 of the votes to be passed. That means the Lifeline Assistance program would have gone up in smoke if the bill’s sponsors had been able to convince just 26 more members of the United States House of Representatives to switch their votes. In that case, the 233-117 would have taken away free government cell phones from millions of needy Americans who depend on them.
The dastardly legislation was proposed by Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican from Georgia. It would have ended the $9.25 per month subsidy paid to cover the cost of cell phone service for financially-struggling Americans who qualify for them because of their low-income or because they also participate in other state and federal assistance programs.
As InsideSources.com reports, “… the program’s budget exploded from $819 million to $2.19 billion between 2008 and 2012 as a result of subscribers and wireless providers fraudulently enrolling multiple times.” Opponents of Lifeline Assistance have repeatedly pointed to the extraordinary level of fraud, waste and abuse that plague the program. And they do, indeed, have a point. The FCC’s efforts have attacked the problem head-on and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in so-called fraud, waste and abuse.
For example, the FCC recently slapped Total Call Mobile with a remarkably (but well-deserved) $51 million fine. Total Call’s unforgivable sin was intentionally “enrolling tens of thousands of duplicate and ineligible consumers.”
An analysis performed on behalf of FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai determined that more than a dozen other Lifeline providers also bypassed the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD). The result according to Pai? Approximately one-third of all new free government cell phone customers enrolled between October 2014 and February 2015 were fraudulent.
Pai claims that these ineligible customers defrauded the Lifeline Assistance program out of $476 million.
Nevertheless, the FCC is feeling so positive about its efforts that it recently voted to increase the budget to $2.25 million in 2016 and to expand Lifeline benefits to include broadband internet.
Do not feel too complacent. Opponents of the Lifeline program see last week’s defeat as a mere skirmish in a longer war that they intend to win. For example, Representative Austin has already introduced new legislation that would cut the Lifeline budget from $2.25 billion to just $1.5 billion.
This may be news to you, but it is certainly not news to us. We have ranted and raved and pleaded with our readers to report an fraud, waste or abuse when they see it. It is the responsibility of those who desperately need the program to make sure that it isn’t abused by those who don’t need it.
If you are not vigilant, who will be?
If you don’t protect yourself, who will?
Here’s a link (click here) to an article we ran several years ago. It tells you exactly how to report fraud, waste and abuse. Please read it. Take it to heart. Do the right thing when it needs to be done.
If you don’t, the day will come when Representative Austin wins.
And that means you will lose.