We rarely quote the Huffington Post, but we recently ran across an article at that radical wacko website that hits at the very heart of one of the biggest remaining flaws in the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program.
It is almost impossible for unaccompanied homeless children and youths to get one of these life-saving cell phones.
We’re always quick to criticize the Federal Communications Commission, so let’s give the government watchdog a pat on the back for a change. When they realized that homeless people were ineligible, they changed the rules so that residents of homeless shelters qualified for the phones. When they realized that battered women were ineligible, they changed the rules so that victims of domestic abuse who resided in women’s shelters qualified for the phones.
Based on the facts we’ve gathered, it seems clear that young adults (defined as age 18, 19 and 20) are eligible for Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones as long as they are living in a homeless shelter or participate in one of the qualifying programs. The problem is that those who are most at risk — children and youths living on the streets and subject to the worst abuses — are not eligible for the program.
It’s time for the FCC to alter the rules so that homeless children and youths can participate in the program.
We find ourselves agreeing with the Huffington Post
The author of the HuffPo article is Eric Rice, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work and its online master’s degree program MSW@USC. His background makes him a recognized expert in high-risk adolescent behavior and social network theory. He consults with a number of community-based organizations that serve homeless youth — including My Friend’s Place, Safe Place for Youth and The Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Rice’s thoughts and ours are in complete alignment. He makes the same points that we have made over and over and over again here at FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net.
One of the most important resources homeless teens and young adults can acquire is a cell phone. Imagine for a moment that you are homeless. How would you get a job if an employer could not call you back? How is your social worker going to follow up with you about housing opportunities if they can’t call you back? This is the reality that homeless youth face every day.
Rice went out onto the streets and conducted a survey and published the results in the “Journal of Urban Health.” Here’s what he found:
It turns out that 62 percent of homeless youth own a cell phone. When I talk with people about this study, they are often surprised by how many homeless youth have cell phones. I think this is because we still think of cell phones as a commodity of the rich. Sure the new iPhone is going to set you back a few hundred dollars, but there are a lot of cheap options out there. In my survey, I found that 30 percent of youth had been given their phone, 44 percent had paid for their phone by saving money from a job they held, and 9 percent bought their phones using money they had acquired pan handling on the streets.
The problem, as we see it, is that getting the phone in the first place may be easy enough, but paying the steep monthly fees is a completely different issue. That’s where the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program could have a huge impact on these homeless youths’ lives.
Having a phone can be an opportunity for making strides toward a stable life. In my study I found that many of the youth who owned cell phones were using them to try to improve their situation. About 40 percent of the youth I surveyed said they were using their phone to try to get a job. About a quarter of the youth also told me that they were using their phones to keep up with a social worker that was helping them to get off the streets.
Still, not every homeless youth has a phone and they all struggle to get enough minutes and data. We need to put more cell phones in the hands of more homeless teens and young adults. We need to provide them with more minutes and data. Cell phones are a relatively cheap resource and they are a resource that these youth can leverage into jobs, housing and stable lives. If we want to help homeless youth to help themselves, we need to empower them to be connected to the world. And in this information rich day and age, that means cell phones.
The FCC regulations are clear. Each Lifeline Assistance company spells the age limitations out a bit differently, but the different sets of words all have the same meaning — no one under 18 is eligible.
For example, here’s how telephone behemoth AT&T spells out its policy:
Q. I’m a senior citizen, do I qualify?
Lifeline is not based on age. You must participate in one of the qualifying programs or meet the income guidelines to be eligible for Lifeline.
All American Wireless, a smaller Lifeline Assistance company, explains its policy like this:
I am age 18 years or older; and, I am head of the household.
❏ No (you are not eligible for Lifeline or Link Up assistance. Recipient must be over 18 and head of the household.)
Are there any exceptions? There is, of course, a long list of government aid programs in which participation makes an individual eligible for Lifeline Assistance. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program seemed like the most likely bet. All states have the same basic requirements, so we picked the state of Indiana at random and investigated its TANF rules:
What is TANF?
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a program that provides cash assistance and supportive services to assist families with children under age 18, helping them achieve economic self-sufficiency.
That sounded promising. Then we got to the next paragraph:
Who is eligible for TANF cash assistance?
Children under 18 who are living with their parent(s) or relative such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle etc., who meet specific nonfinancial criteria and whose countable family income meets the following income guidelines.
Unfortunately, homeless youths — by definition — cannot be “living with the parent(s) or relative…” or they wouldn’t be homeless.
As we said earlier in this article, many homeless young adults (defined as age 18, 19 and 20) are eligible for Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones as long as they are living in a homeless shelter. The problem is that those who are most at risk — children and youths living on the streets and subject to the worst abuses — are not eligible for the program.
How many children and youths are we talking about?
How widespread is the problem of homeless youths and children? We can get a good idea by looking at a 2013 report presented to Congress in 2013 by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Its findings include:
- There were 46,924 unaccompanied homeless children and youth on a single night in 2013. Most (87 percent or 40,727) were youth between the ages of 18 and 24, and 13 percent (or 6,197) were children under the age of 18.
- Half of unaccompanied children and youth (23,461 or 50 percent) were unsheltered in 2013
That same report continues with a snapshot of unaccompanied homeless children and youths (meaning that they have no adults in their lives) from a single night in January 2013:
- States with the largest numbers of unaccompanied homeless children and youth under 18 were: California (2,144), Florida (1,542), and Texas (718). Together, California, Florida, and Texas had 58 percent of all unaccompanied children and youth under 18 in the country.
Let’s make one important clarification here: These statistics should not be interpreted to mean that there are, for example, only 2,144 homeless children in California. It needs to be emphasized that the accurate meaning is that there are 2,144 unaccompanied homeless children and youths on any night. Some of them will return home the next night. Some of them will find shelter the next night. Some of them will end up in an emergency room or hospital the next night. Some of them will be taken in by a kind stranger the next night. Some of them will be taken in by a not-so-kind stranger the next night. And, sadly, some of them will die the next night.
In other words, the specific children and youths may change, but the overall number remains relatively constant from night to night. So there’s really no way of telling how many total unaccompanied children and youths there are over the course of the year. What we do know is that the number is troublingly large.
The numbers may be relatively small, but the problem is huge. Eric Rice said, “We must empower these youths to help themselves”. We completely agree. But we think it’s even more important that we help these youths rescue themselves from the incredibly dangerous environments in which they find themselves. Tens of millions of free government cell phones, free voice minutes and free texts have been given away to impoverished adults. Shouldn’t we find in it our hearts to expand the program to help these poor, unfortunate children, too?
This is a clear problem desperately searching for a solution. And only the FCC can provide that solution.