WASHINGTON – There may be a government shutdown, but Sen. David Vitter, R-La., took the opportunity to challenge retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark to debate over the Lifeline cell phone program for welfare recipients.
Vitter has led the Senate effort in trying to legislatively gut the program, and Clark, who ran for president as a Democrat in 2004, spent time in Louisiana this week touting the program as a positive public service for those in need, many of whom are military veterans.
“Thank you very much for coming to Louisiana and calling increased attention to Lifeline, the fraud-ridden free government cell phone program for welfare recipients,” Vitter wrote to Clark. “I look forward to a public discussion with you about Lifeline and my efforts to end the waste, fraud, and abuse surrounding it.”
The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program was created nearly 30 years ago under President Ronald Reagan to provide discounted phone service to people living in poverty. It was expanded under former President George W. Bush to include cell phones.
Last year, the FCC tweaked its rules for eligibility and began investigating fraud in the program. The FCC is proposing $14.4 million in fines on some of the companies that administer the program for not properly ensuring the eligibility of the phone recipients in some cases.
In Louisiana, nearly 800,000 low-income families participate in the Lifeline program. Lifeline is funded by fees that both landline and wireless companies apply to their monthly phone bills.