Veterans, Consumer Groups Warn Against Kentucky State Assembly “Hanging Up” Phone Service Used by Low-Income Vets, Other State Residents

More Than 13,000 Vets in “Military-Retiree Friendly” Kentucky Rely on Program for Health Access, Along With 130,000+ Other State Residents; Tax Bill Likely to Run Lifeline Cellphone Service Providers Out of State.

FRANKFORT, Ky.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–With three major military bases in its borders – Fort Campbell, Fort Knox and Blue Grass Army Depot – Kentucky is a major home to Army and Marine Corps veterans of combat and other active service. But a measure under consideration in the Kentucky State House would directly imperil the federal “Lifeline” cellphone service made available to an estimated 13,000 low-income veterans in the state, many of whom depend on it for primary care physician contact, telehealth programs, prescriptions, and emergency medical care.

In addition to vets, more than 130,000 additional Kentucky seniors on fixed incomes and other low-income consumers also could lose access to the Lifeline program.

This issue comes to a head tomorrow (Thursday) when the Kentucky House considers a Senate measure (SB 141) that would impose new taxes and administrative burdens on telecommunications companies that provide the service made possible under the federal Lifeline program. The legislation would remove the ability of Lifeline providers to bill and collect the CMRS mobile phone service charge from end users.

AT&T already has stopped providing Lifeline service in Kentucky and the concern is that onerous new conditions would cause other Lifeline providers to either withdraw from the state or substantially scale back their presence here.

James Fisher, executive director, the Korean War Veterans Association, said: “Kentucky has a long and established tradition of welcoming veterans and their families to make the Bluegrass State their permanent home. Many of these veterans depend on the Lifeline phone program to find jobs, communicate with healthcare providers and stay connected with family and friends. We should be doing more to support veterans in need, not placing the benefits they already have at risk through increased taxes and administrative regulations.”

Ken McEldowney, executive director, Consumer Action, said: “We know firsthand that the Lifeline program ensures that consumers living in low-income households have the opportunities and security that telephone and broadband service provide, including: connecting to existing and potential employers; family and friends; healthcare services; and emergency assistance. We are concerned that SB 141 is ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ and sacrifices the long-term benefits of Lifeline for short-term revenue goals.”

The Lifeline program has enormous value to low-income Americans. By connecting individuals to current and potential employers, serving our nation’s veterans, providing elderly and disabled individuals with access to mobile healthcare services and first responders, offering the potential to help close the “homework gap” and more, the Lifeline program provides opportunities to underserved communities who otherwise would not be able to afford this basic necessity.

The Reagan Administration created Lifeline to give low-income Americans access to affordable phone service. USAC national data indicate that 12 percent of Lifeline subscribers are veterans, equating to roughly 1.2 million veterans who rely on the program.

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Max Karlin, (703) 276-3255