Millions of Americans who received taxpayer-funded cell phones last year did not demonstrate eligibility for the $2.2 billion federal government program, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday:
The Lifeline program—begun in 1984 to ensure that poor people aren't cut off from jobs, families and emergency services—is funded by charges that appear on the monthly bills of every landline and wireless-phone customer. Payouts under the program have shot up from $819 million in 2008, as more wireless carriers have persuaded regulators to let them offer the service.
Suspecting that many of the new subscribers were ineligible, the Federal Communications Commission tightened the rules last year and required carriers to verify that existing subscribers were eligible. The agency estimated 15 percent of users would be weeded out, but far more were dropped.
A review of five top recipients of Lifeline support conducted by the FCC for the Journal showed that 41 percent of their more than six million subscribers either couldn't demonstrate their eligibility or didn't respond to requests for certification.
One of the major providers of the phones is the Miami-based TracFone, which is run by a major Democratic donor and fundraiser.
Rep. Tim Griffin (R., Ark.), the author of a bill to dismantle the mobile phone aspect of the program, sharply criticized the subsidies Tuesday in an interview with Fox Business.
"I don't think the federal government ought to be in the business of buying people cellphones," he said.