Under Trump, millions of poor Americans lose access to subsidized phone service for urgent needs, says report
The Lifeline program has, since 1985, provided cheaper phone services to all low-income consumers to ensure that they stay connected to jobs, family, emergency services, and security.
While a debate rages on in the US over covering public health care, yet another impending threat has gone largely unnoticed. According to a report from DC-based investigative news organization Center for Public Integrity published in partnership with USA Today, millions of people from low-income groups have lost their subsidized phone service in the past two years, thanks to the Donald Trump administration’s decision of taking on Lifeline — one of the federal assistance programs that help the needy.
The Lifeline program has, since 1985, provided cheaper phone service for all low-income consumers who qualify to get it to stay connected to jobs, family, emergency services, and security. The program started including cell-phone plans since 2005.
According to the report’s findings, enrollment for Lifeline across the country has dropped by 2.3 million people — or by about 21 percent — since 2017. In DC alone, nearly half of Lifeline users have lost their subsidized phones in the past two years, registering the biggest fall. For those who have found Lifeline truly their life-saver, this is an alarming trend.
Under Lifeline, the subscribers receive $9.25 per month to put towards a cell phone plan on discount. Subscription under the program reached 17.6 million in 2012 when its budget also reached $2.1 billion, which is almost twice its current size.
But soon corruption started setting in. In 2017, a report from the US Government Accountability Office failed to prove the eligibility for nearly a third of the Lifeline subscribers that it reviewed. Earlier in 2012, reforms brought in strict controls on Lifeline funds and made a subscriber database to curb duplicate accounts. These reforms, coupled with an overall economic improvement, saw a fall in Lifeline subscription.
'Aim more to root out corruption'
When it comes to the Trump administration’s take on the Lifeline program, its supporters say that it is more about rooting out corruption than ending the program altogether. The Lifeline remained a subject of debate between the progressives who embraced it and the conservatives who thought it was financially non-viable.
“In my mind, it's very clear that what they are trying to do is kill the program. This is a deliberate and disgusting assault on people who live in poverty”, the report quoted Crystal Rhoades, a Democratic member of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, as saying.
The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, has been a critic of Lifeline throughout. A former Justice Department lawyer called the program a “fiscal nightmare” even while claiming that the current administration’s only target is to tackle the fraud.