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Obama Phone - Free Cell Phones for People on Welfare?

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The Obama Phone: Online rumor claims the Obama administration has started a program whereby taxpayer money is being 'redistributed' to provide free cell phones and service to welfare recipients.

Description: Online rumor
Circulating since: Oct. 2009
Status: Partly true, with spin (see details below)


Example:
Email text contributed by Lynn W., Oct. 29, 2009:

FW: Obamaphone... no joke!!

I had a former employee call me earlier today inquiring about a job, and at the end of the conversation he gave me his phone number. I asked the former employee if this was a new cell phone number and he told me yes this was his "Obama phone." I asked him what an "Obama phone" was and he went on to say that welfare recipients are now eligible to receive (1) a FREE new phone and (2) approx 70 minutes of FREE minutes every month. I was a little skeptical so I Googled it and low and behold he was telling the truth. TAX PAYER MONEY IS BEING REDISTRIBUTED TO WELFARE RECIPIENTS FOR FREE CELL PHONES. This program was started earlier this year. Enough is enough, the ship is sinking and it's sinking fast. The very foundations that this country was built on are being shaken. The age old concepts of God, family, and hard work have flown out the window and are being replaced with "Hope and Change" and "Change we can believe in."

You can click on the link below to read more about the "Obama phone"... just have a barf bag ready.

Safelink Wireless
https://www.safelinkwireless.com/EnrollmentPublic/home.aspx

If you think the link above is a sham, pull up google yourself and type in "free phones" and check it out for yourself.


Analysis:

Q: Is there a U.S. government program that provides free or discounted phones and wireless service to low-income Americans?
A: Yes. It consists of two parts: "Link-Up," which helps income-eligible people set up new home phone service, and "Lifeline," which helps income-eligible people pay their monthly phone charges. (Source: FCC)

Q: Was this program instituted by the Obama administration?
A: No. Nor was it just instituted "earlier this year," as the email claims. The program as it exists today was created over a decade ago by an act of Congress, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A version of the Lifeline program was already in operation as far back as the early 1980s. (Source: USAC.org)

Q: Does the program offer every welfare recipient a free phone and 70 minutes of wireless service?
A: Not necessarily. The specific benefits vary according to locale and service provider. Also, the program is designed to help low-income people generally, not just welfare recipients. Examples: Safelink Wireless | ATT Lifeline and Link-Up | Verizon Low Income Programs. (Source: FCC)

Q: Is it accurate to say that taxpayer money is being 'redistributed' to provide these services?
A: Basically yes, though not in the sense one might assume. Apart from being administered by the FCC, it's not a federally-funded program. Since its inception, the program has been financed via the pooled contributions of commercial phone service providers, which in turn impose small monthly fees on their regular customers to recoup the cost. (Source: FCC)

Sources and further reading:

USAC Lifeline and Link-Up Programs
Lifelinesupport.org, 29 February 2008

Lifeline and Link-Up: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Consumers
Federal Communications Commission, 24 June 2009

Overview of the Low Income Program
Lifelinesupport.org, 29 February 2008

Lifeline Across America
Lifeline.gov, 21 September 2009

Last updated: 09/18/13

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