Support LifeLine's Mission
We, the undersigned, ask the members of the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives to support the long-standing and bipartisan mission of ensuring that every household in America has access to affordable phone service.

Lifeline’s wireless benefit helps low-income Americans stay connected to their families and first responders during times of emergency. The program also provides an important tool that helps beneficiaries find jobs and stay connected to their employers. Lifeline also provides low-income seniors with the tools needed to stay in touch with their caregivers or healthcare providers.

Lifeline is not a part of the federal budget and is not funded by tax dollars, so eliminating or restricting Lifeline’s wireless benefit would have no impact on reducing the budget deficit or debt. But it would needlessly hurt millions of low-income families who struggle each day to make ends meet and depend on Lifeline.

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FAQ

What is the Lifeline program?
Lifeline was initiated by the FCC during the Reagan Administration to expand phone penetration in low-income households. The program is a part of the Universal Service Fund. It is funded by contributions from telecommunications companies and fees they apply to their customers’ monthly phone bills. 

Lifeline offers discounted landline or wireless service to millions of Americans, supporting the long-standing and bipartisan policy goal of providing affordable access to telephone service.  At Lifeline’s inception, 80 percent of low-income households had access to a phone. Today, the rate has increased to more than 90 percent.

What are the eligibility requirements for participating in Lifeline?
Lifeline is currently available to qualifying individuals in every state, commonwealth and territory. Eligibility criteria vary state by state, but generally speaking individuals can receive Lifeline assistance if their income is at or below 135 percent of the poverty line or they are eligible to receive benefits from one of the following programs: Medicaid, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program.

How many people in the United States are receiving Lifeline assistance today?
According to the Universal Service Administrative Company, the organization responsible for administering Lifeline, there are approximately 13 million Lifeline beneficiaries. The program cost the Universal Service Fund $2.2 billion in 2012.  Compared to the High Cost Fund, which is over $4 billion annually, Lifeline is significantly lower. Unlike High Cost, in which companies receive monies directly (corporate welfare), one hundred percent of the Lifeline service is passed onto low-income families.  It is also important to note that participation rates of eligible people in Lifeline continue to be low. Policy makers have long sought out ways to increase participation in this program. 

How many Lifeline subscribers does TracFone Wireless have?
TracFone Wireless, the largest provider of Lifeline wireless benefits through our Safelink brand, operates in 39 states and has more than 3.6 million subscribers.

When did the Lifeline program begin to offer cell service to low-income households? Why has it become commonly known as the Obamaphone?
Lifeline wireless service has been around for a number of years, dating back to President George W. Bush’s Administration, not President Obama’s.  In 2008, the FCC approved the first free wireless Lifeline.  The FCC’s decision to allow Lifeline to offer a free wireless option was an important recognition of the central role that the cell phone plays in modern day life in America. A growing number of households are giving up their landlines and moving entirely into wireless service. This trend is likely to be more prevalent in low-income communities. Wireless phone service provides users with greater flexibility to stay connected to their communities. 

This is especially important for low-income Americans who are seeking gainful employment and striving to make the transition from welfare to work. Having access to a wireless phone is vital for disabled Americans and seniors who are more susceptible to finding themselves in medical emergencies while away from home. The wireless service option also has the advantage of providing recipients with voicemail and call waiting, features that are important when looking for a job. Many states prohibit landline recipients from using the discount to purchase these types of services.

Is it true that some military families are participating in the Lifeline program? 
It is a sad reality, but many military families earn so little that they are eligible to receive Food Stamps. While eligibility requirements for Lifeline vary by state to state, in most circumstances, if a military family is eligible to receive Food Stamps they are also eligible to receive Lifeline assistance. Many veterans are also eligible to receive Lifeline assistance. In fact, 10 percent of Safelink’s (TracFone Wireless) customers are veterans of the U.S. Armed Services.

Is the government spending taxpayer money to give free cell phones to people?
No, that is a distortion that has unfortunately found its way into recent news reports. The Lifeline program only pays for phone service, not the actual phone. 

While Lifeline recipients have been receiving free handsets, the telecommunications companies offering the wireless service under the program provide those phones at their expense. The cost of providing the handset is not reimbursed by the Universal Service Fund.

Wouldn’t cutting Lifeline’s wireless benefit help reduce the deficit?
No. Lifeline is not a part of the federal budget and isn’t funded by tax dollars. So eliminating the program would have no impact on reducing the deficit or debt, but it would needlessly hurt millions of people who turn to Lifeline to stay connected to their families, communities and employers.

What is the monthly cost of providing cell service under the Lifeline program?
The federal benefit is limited to $9.25 a month, regardless of whether it comes in the form of a landline or a cell phone.  For the wireless option, the Universal Service Fund typically reimburses wireless providers with $9.25 a month for roughly 250 minutes of cell service provided.  

Can beneficiaries of the Lifeline program receive both subsidized landline and cell service? 
Federal law prohibits individuals from receiving benefits for more than one phone service per household. A recent GAO review of the Lifeline program found some incidences of individuals receiving both landline and wireless assistance. This runs counter to the mission of the program. Wireless providers, lawmakers and regulators should be diligent in ensuring compliance to protect the integrity of Lifeline. The FCC already has implemented reforms that were developed in consultation and cooperation with TracFone Wireless to identify and de-enroll customers receiving multiple Lifeline benefits.

What else is being done by TracFone Wireless and the FCC to reduce fraud?
As the largest provider of wireless service under Lifeline, TracFone Wireless has been cooperative in ushering in reforms to eliminate fraud and waste from the program. The FCC has recently adopted several tough new safeguards that we recommended to protect the integrity of the program. 

These reforms include de-enrollment for subscribers who don’t use the service for 60 days, a mandatory requirement that customer identifying information, including date of birth and Social Security number (last four digits), be collected to accurately determine eligibility, annual re-certification of the entire Lifeline subscriber base rather than a “statistically valid random simple” and codification of the “one-per-household” rule so there is no question that it is actually a requirement to help avoid double dipping. These reforms are working. The FCC says they saved more than $200 million in 2012 and will save an additional $400 million in 2013.

TracFone Wireless has made additional recommendations to the FCC such as requiring that eligibility documentation be retained by wireless providers so that it would be available for audit by the FCC. We also believe that there should be a prohibition on in-person distribution of cell phones. We have proposed that the FCC require wireless providers to first verify the eligibility of a beneficiary and then send the phone via mail or courier service in the same manner TracFone Wireless does. 

TracFone Wireless has been a proven leader in preventing waste, fraud and abuse. To date, and with the assistance of TracFone, 11 states have created verification databases to enable Lifeline providers to access existing state databases. TracFone’s continued commitment to form public/private partnerships with states to help create the national database is a critical and necessary component to the overall health and longevity of the Lifeline program for years to come. 

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