Local News

Costs for Government Funded Cell Phones for the Homeless Mounting

SACRAMENTO -

How often do you say “What would I do without my phone?” You couldn’t call your child’s doctor or get a call about a much-need job.

But with U.S. senators being solicited for a phone program that’s supposed to help the poor, eyebrows are raised.

It’s no longer strange  to see people waiting in line for hours for a phone, eager to shell out hundreds.

But  the folks lined up for phones Friday at the corner of Florin Road and 24th in Sacramento – won’t be paying a cent.

“Just happened to be driving by and I just seen free phones and I was just… kinda curious,” said Rob Campos of Sacramento.

That’s right -  free phones provided by the government.

Some called the flip models Obama-phones, but the wanna-be dialers were waiting in line for help from program started by President Reagan to help the poor in rural areas.

It was expanded to cell service by President Bush.

The program’s paid  for by the Universal Service Fund Fee on telephone bills.

To qualify you must receive some other type of government assistance like WIC or Medicare.

Scotty Williams once had his own phone.

“This one that I had my pocket washing the dishes and it got wet. It shorted out,” he said.

Since he can’t replace his phone now that he’s on welfare, Williams is just the kind of person the Lifeline Program is supposed to help.

Despite situations like that, federal lawmakers are questioning a growth spurt in program costs from $143 million a few years ago to $2.2 billion now.

Though claims of fraud are getting louder, but Reach-Out Wireless franchisee Sid Zahriya says all applicants are doubled checked against a federal database.

“They go through the I.D. they go through the government assistance, social security to make sure it’s not a duplicate name a fake name, fake I.D. even and approve or decline it,” said Zahriya.

Some consumer advocates say good intentions have gotten out of control.

“There’s a lesson here.. Government only goes in one direction -bigger,” said Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Zahriya has only been in business for three weeks and has already distributed more than 1,000 phones.

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