When I lost my job at the height of the recession in November 2008, President Obama had just been elected to office. His first priority was getting the country’s citizens through the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. My first priority was cutting out everything unnecessary from my budget including cable television, restaurant dining, and the cleaning service.
I wanted to get rid of my cell phone since I only use it for emergencies. I had the lowest advertised plan, but never used the minutes. I finally got an unadvertised plan and eventually switched to prepaid, but I was still paying over $100 annually for minutes I was not using.
I checked into one of the measures that attracted a lot of attention from the media during early 2009 when the president was instituting initial emergency measures to help Americans get back on their feet. Lifeline, is a federally subsidized assistance program, designed to help low or no income individuals and families get access to basic telecommunication services. Until the 2009 changes, it was only available for landlines used by families enrolled in federal programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
One of the changes President Obama made to the program was the addition of mobile phone service. Because cell phones had been viewed as luxuries in the past when the program was initially introduced, the media had a field day catching people chatting on wireless phones while at soup kitchens or at Social Services applying for assistance.
Therefore, Lifeline was being mocked as the “Obamaphone,” misread as distributing expensive electronics to freeloaders. The perception was completely fabricated as Lifeline had been in existence since the Reagan era.
President Obama added the choice of bare minimum mobile phone service to an existing program as a way to connect with potential employers, call 911 and other medical providers, and keep low income families connected in emergencies. Medical issues are the only reason I have wireless at all. However, just like the situation that existed before recent changes in housing reform which now allows individuals to qualify based solely on income, I was ineligible for the funded service because I did not receive federal services in the qualifying programs.
Each state is responsible for working out the qualifiers. In Maryland, all of the eligible programs were ones designed for people with families. Only disability programs considered individuals without dependents. I have been in that process for almost three years as well. But due to overwhelming applications, I am still waiting to see a judge to decide whether I will be allowed into that program.
Income qualification and other 2012 Lifeline reform
I still have no income, and my retirement savings is almost gone. I must have a working cell phone, not only to call 911, but because it stores emergency contact information, medication descriptions, and other details that medical responders need to retrieve immediately that an alert bracelet or microchip cannot produce.
In August of 2011, my prepaid phone was $100 with 1200 minutes of which I have 1128 minutes left as of August 2012. I cannot keep service without committing another $72. Each year, I check for changes on the FCC’s Lifeline web page. Thankfully, this year income, or lack thereof, has become a sole qualifier.
On January 31, 2012, the Lifeline Reform Order, FCC 12-11, went into effect. It now allows individuals to qualify based on income alone. Program-based eligibility requires proof of enrollment, and income-based eligibility requires proof such as pay stubs, Social Security statements, retirement or pension statements, or the previous year’s tax return.
My Lifeline plan
With any Lifeline plan, 250 talk and 250 text minutes per month are included along with the handset. To me, that is an excellent deal and more than enough. Additional services are available for smaller fees than carriers usually charge.
I applied online and faxed my tax return to one of the many carriers in my state. I will use my prepaid carrier, and may be able to keep my number. But, I really use it for outgoing only. My phone ships in 7-10 business days.
Sources: fcc.gov, safelinkwireless.com
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