Homeless to get free cell phones

You may not know this, but programs exist in 36 states, which provide free mobile phone service to the poor.

For the homeless and indigent, cell phones can make the difference in getting help, work, housing, or access to other needed services. According to income statistics, as many of 28-million Americans qualify for the program, which experts say could enable recipients to earn as much as $3.7-billion in new income for the poor and near-poor.A mobile phone in back pocket

That’s right, $3.7-billion in money not-paid by government assistance programs. The cell phone
story made the news this week when the nation’s most populous state joined the effort. As KPBS reported, “Public Utilities Commission has approved a federal cellphone giveaway program designed to help the homeless and other impoverished people connect with family, friends and potential employers. Assurance Wireless, an arm of Sprint, will organize cellphone distribution. The program should be in place next year.The Sacramento Bee reported that nearly 5 million California residents with annual incomes below $15,000 and those who receive Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, food stamps and other aid will be eligible for the federal “Lifeline” program.Access to cellphones will help people look for housing, jobs and stay in touch with families, said Joan Burke of Loaves & Fishes, a Sacramento-area homeless services group. ‘We often have families coming to Loaves & Fishes or calling us, because they know their relative is out here but they don’t have a way to contact them,’ she told the Bee. ‘So this is about the best Christmas news we could ever have.’

“Qualified recipients can expect the program to be worked out and in place early next year, and logistics are still being worked out. The state has helped poor people with their telephone bills for decades, but the program has only covered landline phones until now. The new program is funded by telephone companies that can recoup part of the money through charges to customers. California is joining 36 other states with the Lifeline program, which at the end of June had 17.6 million people as clients.The Federal Communications Commission has been overseeing the program since 2005, and has made rules changes to alleviate fraud and abuse, agency spokesman Mark Wigfield said.The FCC said efforts to prevent households from getting duplicate benefits saved $33 million last year.


For more, see: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/dec/14/regulators-approve-free-cellphones-poor/

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