Letter: Phone program a valid use of funds

Our Sen. David Vitter felt the need to email his constituents March 26 at 11:21 a.m. to let us know his valiant stand against “Free Cell Phones for Welfare Recipients.”

This program began under President Ronald Reagan, continued through the administrations of presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, and George “Dubya” Bush, and has been recently modified by President Barack Obama. The “Lifeline Assistance” program created in 1984 provided landlines (and thus a connection of last resort to emergency services, job prospects and family members) in even the poorest homes.

As cellphone use spread and landline use dropped, the program was modified in 2008 under President Bush (before Obama took office). The requirement was that recipients had to be on Medicaid, food stamps or another state or federal welfare program. Unfortunately, the program never required proof from the cell carriers that their millions of Lifeline users were truly needy.

When Obama’s FCC in 2012 required the carriers verify Lifeline users actually needed aid, the program was found to be riddled with fraud. About 41 percent of Lifeline cell subscribers turned out not to be eligible. So, the FCC will be cutting the Lifeline rolls and thereby, the cost of the program.

Apparently, Sen. Vitter feels that is not enough, so he wants to remove cellphones from people on Medicaid, food stamps or another state or federal welfare program. He wants to make it harder for them to find jobs, connect with potential employers, check with the children’s teachers, make medical appointments, and maybe even calling 911.

The Lifeline program is a valid use of federal funds (our dollars collected through the Universal Service Fund fee on our monthly phone bill) to help those at the bottom of our economy.

Also, the program includes 250 minutes of use per month — not unlimited minutes.

James R. Madden

IT consultant

Baton Rouge