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Thursday, October 27, 2016

First, let’s start by laying to rest a myth: There is no such thing as an “Obama phone.” The federal program that provides free phone service to the nation’s poorest residents dates back to the administration of Ronald Reagan.

Over the years, the biggest change has been to allow the program, called “Lifeline,” to provide limited-use cellphones as well as old-fashioned landlines. That update came in 2005, when Obama was serving in the U.S. Senate.

And it makes sense to provide low-cost cellphones. Not only have mobile telephones become a ubiquitous and necessary feature of modern life, but the technology is now comparatively cheap. Lifeline pays for up to 250 minutes a month, and wireless carriers usually provide the beneficiary a bare-bones mobile phone — not an iPhone with apps.

Still, some political conservatives have held on to the idea that giving poor and working-class people cellphones is not just wasteful and extravagant, but also downright morally suspect. In Georgia, the Public Service Commission has registered its disapproval by voting to charge beneficiaries $5 for Lifeline service even though it was designed to be free.

When critics noted that the new rule will provide yet another budgetary hurdle for the financially strapped, PSC Commissioner Doug Everett, who sponsored the $5 fee, seethed with contempt:

“You’re taking money now from some of the poorest people in the world and giving it to other people that have not worked for it,” he said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That neatly encapsulates the world view held by many ultraconservatives, who also view food stamps, the earned-income tax credit and, of course, health care as a sop to the infamous “47 percent” who refuse to lift a finger to help themselves. Everett has also claimed that the $5 fee, which will go to telecom companies, is necessary to prevent fraud in the Lifeline program. But he has not said how it would do so.

In fact, the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the service, tightened requirements last year after investigations found that the program was rife with fraud. The scams were perpetrated not only by individual beneficiaries but also by giant telecom companies, who are paid a $9.25 monthly subsidy for each Lifeline customer.

Among other remedies, the FCC ended a $30-a-month subsidy to phone companies for each new connection, saying it gave them a “perverse” incentive to sign up ineligible beneficiaries. The agency has also proposed millions in fines against five wireless carriers for allegedly cheating the Lifeline program. Additionally, it mandated stricter tests for income eligibility.

  • Dominick Vila

    Opposition to Lifeline is consistent with the goal to keep the populace dumb and happy. The efforts to keep the poor out of touch are consistent with the efforts to get rid of the Department of Education and public schools, and replace them with home schooling by people who need help themselves, and religious schools.

    • omgamike

      Dominick, I have never had any faith in the home schooling concept. Just because you are provided a curriculum to follow and meet all the necessary requirements, doesn’t mean that you have the personality, intelligence, and/or the passion to educate and inspire our home schooled youth. And, not being religious (spiritual, yes – religious, no), I would not send a child to a religious school, since they impose their religious beliefs on the child, whether the child wants it or not.

      • stcroixcarp

        Children learn valuable life lessons in school. Often children will learn from a teacher what they refuse to learn from their parents. Recess is one of the greatest learning experiences in school because the children have a chance to incorporate the “book learning” into their behavior in fun and creative ways. They learn to play with other kids.

        • omgamike

          I agree about the recess. The playground was where you learned to interact socially with your peers. And it was sometimes the toughest class to pass. And I know what you mean about trying to learn from your parents. I think there is a lot of personal resistance to learning that way.

      • Dominick Vila

        I agree. I attended Jesuit and Franciscan schools, and by the time I was 16 or 18 I was already an agnostic leaning atheist.
        Subject: Re: New comment posted on Subsidized Phone Service Helps The Poor Find Work

        • omgamike

          I can really appreciate where you’re coming from here, Dom.

    • MJRinPA

      This entire thead has an anti-homescholing bias by people who don’t know anything about homeschooling. We homeschooled our 2 daughters – for academic reasons, not religious reasons.

      “Just because you are provided a curriculum to follow and meet all the
      necessary requirements, doesn’t mean that you have the personality,
      intelligence, and/or the passion to educate and inspire our home
      schooled youth.”
      I majored in elementary education/library science in college. I also read academic journals including those relating to special education, learning styles, and gifted education.
      “Children learn valuable life lessons in school. Often children will
      learn from a teacher what they refuse to learn from their parents.”
      That is why our children were involved in reading groups, math olympiad, and other group activities with other parents doing their share of the teaching.
      Our older daughter started college at the age of 16. She went to school full time and worked full time – and graduated summa cum laude. Our younger daughter also graduated from college summa cum laude. Both are working in their chosen career, have many friends and are productive members of society.

      There are homeschoolers who are doing less than they would if they were in public or private schools, but there are others who are doing much, much more. Don’t paint all homeschoolers with the same brush.

      • iamproteus

        Your self-aggrandizing comments do nothing to invalidate either of the statements you quote. Please be careful not to hurt your arm while patting yourself on the back.

      • Dominick Vila

        Unfortunately, most of the parents who decide to homeschool their children don’t have the academic credentials that you have, and do it for reasons far removed from academic concerns.

  • omgamike

    This article is particularly personal to me. I have, in the past, had one of these LifeLine phones. But I live up in a valley where I have great difficulty receiving cell phone reception. So I would carry the phone with me in case of an emergency. And therein lay the problem. I am only out a couple of times a month, usually when I get paid — get out and buy food and pay some bills. At home if I have a medical emergency, I will use my landline phone to call 911. So the cellphone is only good when I get out and about, and, not having any emergency yet when I am out, I wasn’t using the 250 minutes a month. So, after two or three months of not using the phone, they cancel the service, because I haven’t used the minutes. I would have been all set if it wasn’t for that program policy.

    • kmkirb

      Hey omgamike,

      I know someone who has one of those cell phones, & like you hardly ever uses it due to poor reception area from living in the mountains, except for taking it in the car in case of an emergency or someone trying to contact them, like their job.

      They got notification same as you that if they didn’t use the phone ever so often, they would lose the service. They have only used the whole 250 minutes 1 time in 3 years. Instead, once a month they will call either me or a friend for like 5 minutes, & as a last resort will call their own home landline. They answer the landline, & then lay both phones down a few feet apart due to feedback, & just walks around the house for 2 or 3 minutes talking or singing to themselves. That’s how you keep the phone when you don’t use the minutes, lol!

  • tax payer

    Give them some logs and a blanket, and let them communicate via smoke signals.

    • omgamike

      Still trolling, I see. Get any nibbles yet from some unsuspecting poster?

      • tax payer

        Yes, you did it right now.

        • kmkirb

          Too funny, tax payer. Play nicee nice please 🙂 Not spoken to you in a while so I hope you & your family are doing very well.

          And BTW, I do not make enough money on my lousy job, so I have had one of these phones for 3 years as of last month. My grandparents had help back in the 80’s with their landline also.

          I hardly ever use it for two reasons. My two cardinal rules from back in the day when I got my very 1st cell in 1999, (back when I could afford my own Phone & then 2004 when I finally upgraded it to a Smart Phone), I do not talk & drive, & I only carry it in my car strictly in case of an emergency if I break down, or my job calls & then I pull over to take the call. Besides, where I live, the reception is horrible with this phone. Not like my smart phone at all.

          • tax payer

            Sometimes people leave the site and you start to wonder ( did they finally get tired of what everyone is talking about ) or did they have something much more important to do. Welcome back and as you notice I still have people here that insist everything I say is negative. I pay $84,00 a month for a cell phone for my daughter and she never has it charged up, so I told her I may stop paying for your cell phone since I can never get hold of you.

          • kmkirb

            Oh no, I never left tax payer. I read quite often, it’s just I don’t have a lot of time to do much commenting. Plus, I do spend an awfully lot of time on other sites also. Between my inbox blowing up & trying to keep up there (hah, what a joke), & probably no less than 30 sites I go to regularly, & 10 consistently, there are just not enough hours in the day. Seems like the past month or so I’ve been living on Alternet.

            And yes, I saw your comment about smoke signals, & all I could do was smile thinking “Welp, I’ve got one of them phones, & I’m Native American & wouldn’t know the first thing about smoke signals. Shoot, my luck my blanket would be on fire & then probably me next 🙂

            Wow, that’s quite a bit for your daughter’s cell. I used to have AT&T with a Nokia Smart Phone I purchased in 2004 for $99.00. I really miss it, but had to give it up in 2010 when I lost my job. I could take pics & video, jump on the net unlimited, & I had 1000 minutes with text (which I’ve never done & don’t care to), & my minutes were rollover every month. My whole plan after taxes & fees was $69 & some change a month.

            I might catch you again later on this eve. After I get back from my J.O.B. Make it a wonderful day.

      • tax payer

        Seriously, I don’t expect anyone to respond, but they do and it’s not my fault they get mad over something that doesn’t concern them.

        • omgamike

          You are obviously intelligent – and passionate about those things that concern you. I just see it, when anyone does what I see as ‘trolling’, as both wasting time and energy, plus missing the potential opportunity to engage in a really thoughtful conversation on some interesting topic or problem. And I must admit that I occasionally let my emotions get the best of me. Some of the people posting comments are dumber than a box of rocks. A tiny bit of fact checking on their comments prior to posting would show them that someone had led them down the garden path. Again, a waste of time and energy. And I’m an old fart who has neither the time nor the energy to waste. To me, both are precious commodities.

          • CrankyToo

            You think taxpayer’s “obviously intelligent”? That’s a joke, right? That boy’s dumber than a bag of ball peens. And why in the world would you (or anyone else on this site) respond to his nonsense? If we ignore him, he’ll eventually go peddle his bullshit elsewhere.

          • omgamike

            I believe in trying to be respectful when I post comments on this site, or any other site. It’s possible that if you try being respectful, this person might be respectful in return. Maybe even get this person to engage in thoughtful discourse with everyone. He might even have something worthwhile to contribute to the conversation, if given the opportunity to do so. Anyway, it can’t hurt to try.

          • CrankyToo

            I love your optimism, Bro.

          • omgamike

            In this day and age, you have to try and see the good side of things. Otherwise, you’d go nuts.

          • kmkirb

            Shhh, here’s a secret. You can really talk to tax payer & he can be a nice guy, as long as you don’t talk politics 🙂 Some people just don’t get it that the poor, sick, elderly, etc., need help, & it’s not from them being irresponsible. We didn’t hear most of this numbnut talk until our economy tanked. And people on the right just can’t seem, or don’t want to, understand that, thanks to the big corporations, the Too Big To Fail/Jail Banks, the Koch Bros., at al & that they have all been completely complicit with destroying our democracy & our people.

            But absolutely stay away from these two. anal skank (Lana Ward) & the ‘self-serving, sitting atop his own mountain looking down on everyone else’ whom goes by the name of foundingprinciples. Some refer to IT as flounderingprinciples, which is definitely apropos, & who I just call IT.

  • elw

    What I find ironic is the fact that it was during the Reagan Administration that the program began not during President Obama’s. It is just sad how far the Republican Party has fallen since Reagan was President; Not that Reagan was that great.

    • JD Mulvey

      Yeah, Reagan was part of the “Horrible” wing of the party. Not the “Batshit” wing.

      • elw

        I know, Reagan seems almost logical in comparison.

    • Demittry

      You can expect any democrat president to expand any welfare program which came before him. Nowadays, most likely, the low-information voter is told while being bused to a polling location, that their new phone is a gift from Barack Hussein Obama. Thus, they say, “He (Obama) gave us a phone…”

      • elw

        The program you are talking was put in place in 1984 by Reagan, the hero of the Conservative wing of the Republican Party. Since its implementation, about 30 years ago there has been 3 Republican and 2 Democratic Presidents who have kept the program in place. President Bush expanded it to include cell phones in 2006. The phones are not handed out on buses, they have to be applied for through local telephone providers who are the only ones who can turn them on. I assure you that the major communication providers do not give any president credit for the free phone that people on the program get. Your whole post is one big, fat lie – the very same one put out by the GOP. Shame on you.

      • Independent1

        Hey Klutz, you know who the biggest abusers are of the program?? The phone companies!! Yup!! It’s the phone companies that the feds are going after. Because phone companies get $30/month for each cell phone users, they were sending representatives out to sign up people who didn’t qualify to have them. If you take GOP supporting phone companies out of the mix, the abuse of the phone service was less than 2%.
        When are totally clueless people like yourself going to wake up and figure out that, whenever the situation looks like there’s abuse or fraud involved, IT’S ALWAYS THE GOP (Republicans) THAT’S DOING THE CHEATING!!!

      • CrankyToo

        You spell well and use correct grammer and sentence structure, which suggests that you’re better educated than the typical conservative. So how is it that someone like yourself, possessed of a modicum of intelligence, could spout such inane drivel? The answer, of course, is that you’re a tool!!!! You’re a tool of Fox Noise, the opiate of the asses.

        Those “low information voters” you refer to are, by and large, red state Republicans. The only way the Greedy Old Pricks could get 50 million lemmings to jump off the cliff is by dumbing them down and keeping them stupid. Do yourself a favor, Squire – don’t be a lemming.

        Here are a couple of tricks you may want to employ to convince other intelligent people that you know what you’re talking about:

        1. Don’t use the phrase, “most likely” when you’re attempting to convince a listener that what follows is factual. Only in the Fox Noise universe does that phrase magically transform fiction into fact.

        2. When referring to our President, who incidentally is one of the most respected and admired human beings on the planet (and upon whose ass you wouldn’t amount to a pimple), you should resist the temptation to use his middle name – Hussein. When you do that, your audience understands that you’re being intentionally inflammatory and hyperbolic, and you immediately lose all credibility.

        3. Pull your head out of your ass and change the channel!

        You’re right about one thing, though. You can expect a president of the Democrat variety to demonstrate compassion toward the less fortunate among us. I doubt that Jesus Christ would have had it any other way.

      • omgamike

        You have to be low income, or disabled, or both, in order to qualify for those phones. They aren’t handed out at polling places or any other place. They have to be applied for. You are one of those people that, as hard as I try, I find it very difficult to be courteous and respectful, as you obviously have no respect for anyone yourself. Have a great day. Watch out for those black helicopters.

  • centerroad

    Is it true the phone companies get $30/head per month?

    This is exactly where the Dems (gov’t) programs lose me. I have a kid with a cell phone, I pay $12/mn for 250 minutes and data. My phone bought new on ebay for $25. There are tens of thousands of refurbished phones on ebay for $15.

    But the gov’t program has to pay top dollar to a company that immediately starts stealing. I object!!! The cost of this program can be cut in half in a blink of an eye without losing a customer.

    We don’t have to build houses for the homeless at $400k/unit.
    We don’t have to pave a road for $1million a mile so the pot hole filler can make $40/hr.
    We don’t have to pay our cops $100k-150k/yr
    We don’t have to pay our post office workers $85k/yr

    That is why we have the tea party, the extreme left has had a counter reaction. This kind of stuff just burns people to the core.

    • 4sanity4all

      I’m pretty sure that your figures are greatly inflated. The tea party has counter reactions to numbers that were made up, or greatly inflated. They ought to get some actual facts; it would calm them down.

      • centerroad

        Unfortunately my figures are dead on accurate, which ones do you dispute? While many parts of the country have cheaper cops, and can pave a road cheaper, they happen to be right to work gop states, who don’t get elected by the gov’t unions. In Cal vs Texas, Tex road costs are about half of Cal., which are $1mil per mile. The post office workers is an easy google, and the gov’t cost to build housing in a liberal state is actually higher than $400k, that of course is a generalization, apartments can be cheaper, but in any case the costs are around twice what the private sector builds them for.

        You are as ill informed as the tea party. the radical left is almost as deluded as the radical right.

        • centerroad

          And, I’ve noted this site has published what I consider very slanted inaccurate articles and studies, and that Dean Baker specifically is disingenuous in presenting the evidence.

          While in the short term it helps “the cause”, in the long run it leads to tea partiers running around with high powered weapons.

        • 4sanity4all

          I can speak to your police pay figure. Police start at $65 thousand around here. Your figure would reflect 20 years on the job, and advanced rank, so it is not accurate, as it only represent what the minority of police make. Your total cost for a road is accurate, however, the companies which get these contracts pay the workers closer to $20 per hour, and since they are good Republicans, keep the rest for the company owner and CEO. I know that your post office worker figure is off, too, because lately the Post Office has been hiring two part time workers, instead of one full time, to avoid giving benefits. They have also used fewer workers to do the same amount of work, so the hires are doing more work for less money. It is easy to throw around figures, but without context, figures are misleading.