Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hold The Phone!

It would seem that our federal government has found another way to spend our tax payer money in an un-Constitutional manner. In this case, the money spent comes in the form of providing free cell phones and air time to the poor. The culprit is Safelink Wireless. According to their web site,

“SAFELINK WIRELESS® service is U.S. government supported program for Income eligible households provided by TracFone Wireless, Inc. In order to participate in the SAFELINK WIRELESS® service, persons must meet certain eligibility requirements set by each State where the service is to be provided. These requirements are based on a person’s participation in a state or Federal support programs or by meeting the Income Poverty Guidelines as defined by the U.S. Government.”

Further, “To help bring you this important benefit, SafeLink Wireless is proud to offer Lifeline Service. Through our Lifeline Service you will receive FREE cellular service, a FREE cell phone, and FREE Minutes every month! SafeLink Wireless Service does not cost anything – there are no contracts, no recurring fees and no monthly charges. Any Minutes you do not use will roll-over. Features such as caller ID, call waiting and voicemail are all also included with your service. If you need additional Minutes, you can buy TracFone Airtime Cards at any TracFone retailer, Walmart, Walgreens, Family Dollar, etc). SafeLink Airtime Cards will be available soon.”

“The process to qualify for Lifeline Service depends on the State you live in. In general, you may qualify if…
1. You already participate in other State or Federal assistance program such as Federal Public Housing Assistance, Food Stamps and Medicaid. OR
2. Your total household income is at or below 135% of the poverty guidelines set by your State and/or the Federal Government. AND
3. No one in your household currently receives Lifeline Service through another phone carrier.
4. You have a valid United States Postal Address. In order for us to ship you your free phone you must live at a residence that can receive mail from the US Post Office. Sorry, but P.O. Boxes cannot be accepted.”

So reading this it would seem that you may qualify for this free or reduced cost phone and air time even if you make an income 35% ABOVE the poverty level. Further, there doesn’t seem to be any restrictions on whether one has to be a legal resident or not. The fact that the site is also available in Spanish leads me to believe that there indeed must be a significant portion of the “program participants” that are primarily Spanish speaking.  One wonders how many of these folks are undocumented aliens?

Now I have been an engineer in the wireless industry for the last fourteen years and as such, I design and optimize wireless phone networks. I also interact on a regular basis with the senior sales and marketing staff in my state and yet I have never heard of this program until a friend forwarded this information to me today. Despite that, it would seem that the program is fairly well known by those that know how to game the system for such “entitlements” though after doing a little checking around.

It strikes me as extremely foolish to be providing such niceties with tax payer dollars to people when we are $13 TRILLION dollars in debt as a nation. (I also learned that $1 million in stimulus money has gone to a local High School not far from where I live in order to purchase I-pod touches for the students there in order to “enhance their learning via this technology”. This is a whole other story though.) The fact of the matter is that first off we do NOT have the luxury of incurring any more debt in this country, especially when that debt will be foisted on our children and grandchildren for generations to come. Second, and just as importantly, if not more so, nowhere in the constitution does it authorize such expenditures of tax-payers’ money for such a non-essential entitlement to a select few. Not that this has seemed to matter for the better part of a century now anyway.

I guess I should just be thankful that “SAFELINK WIRELESS® service is limited to one person per household.” (At least until the next stimulus bill is passed, anyways…)

UPDATE: I have since learned that this is a program that was initially started back in the 1980's and reauthorized under George W. Bush's administration in 2008.  The money used to pay for this is through the Universal Service Fee tax on any landline or cell phone.  That being said, this still is one more tax that should not be levied simply to provide another entitlement benefit for others in my humble opinion.

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