You’d better sit down for this. It’s shocking. Get this, according to a new report, the government free phone program is riddled with abuse and fraud. I know, I know. It’s unbelievable.
From CBS Denver:
A federally regulated program providing free cellphone service and phones to the poor and needy in Denver appears to be riddled with waste, fraud and abuse, according to an undercover CBS4 Investigation.
The $2 billion a year Lifeline program has handed out more than 13 million free cellphone plans across the country in the first six months of this year. In Colorado, the program handed out more than 117,000 free cellphone plans in the first half of this year, or about 20,000 cellphones every month.
The free phones and their wireless plans are paid for by a monthly tax on your cellphone, called the Universal Service Tax. Although the Lifeline wireless program has been around since 2005 and started under president George W. Bush, it has exploded under President Obama’s administration and the phones are often referred to as “Obamaphones.”
The program has strict guidelines. To qualify, you have to be on food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance or some other government program to prove that you are low-income. The idea is that people who could not otherwise afford mobile phones would have them to help look for jobs, call 911 in an emergency or stay in touch with family members.
But on multiple trips to Colfax Avenue and Broadway in Denver, where multiple distributors set up their tents to hand out free cellphones, a CBS4 producer and reporter found the phone agents willing to circumvent strict government rules designed to ensure that only the truly needy get the free phones. The vendors receive massive government subsidies to hand out the phones and the accompanying monthly plans.
“Want to sign up for a free phone?” an agent representing Total Call mobile asked a CBS4 producer. The representative then asked if the undercover producer had a food stamp card, a Medicaid card or any other evidence that he qualified for a phone.
“No,” replied the CBS4 employee. But one of the cellphone agents then ordered his colleague to “push it through,” by using someone else’s food stamp card to provide eligibility for the CBS4 employee.
“Did you just use that guy’s food stamp card for me?” questioned the CBS4 employee.
“Yeah,” responded the Total Call representative. “It’s verification that you are on some kind of assistance program. It’s to get you through.”
He promptly gave the CBS4 worker a free phone. The Total Call agent said he received $3 for every phone he is able to give away.
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One of the most predictable things on the planet is that government is going to be wasteful and inefficient. In fact, that’s what it does best. So when there is a massive program that gives away free phones, it should come as no surprise to anyone with an ounce of objectivity that it is going to be rife with fraud and abuse.