Claim: The Obama administration has enacted legislation that makes taxpayer subsidized cell phones free to low income applicants. These cell phones are sometimes refereed to as Obama Phones.
Fact Check: The claim is false. As it turns out, low income applicants have been eligible for free government cell phones for over a decade. The program is not funded by tax payer dollars,but funded by contributions that telecom operators make to the Universal Service Fund. These fees are usually passed onto telecom customers in the form of a Universal Service Fund fee.
Here is an example of an Obama Phone chain email that made its way into our inbox:
FW: Obamaphone… no joke!!
I had a former employee call me earlier today inquiring about a job, and at the end of the conversation he gave me his phone number. I asked the former employee if this was a new cell phone number and he told me yes this was his “Obama phone.” I asked him what an “Obama phone” was and he went on to say that welfare recipients are now eligible to receive (1) a FREE new phone and (2) approx 70 minutes of FREE minutes every month. I was a little skeptical so I Googled it and low and behold he was telling the truth. TAX PAYER MONEY IS BEING REDISTRIBUTED TO WELFARE RECIPIENTS FOR FREE CELL PHONES. This program was started earlier this year. Enough is enough, the ship is sinking and it’s sinking fast. The very foundations that this country was built on are being shaken. The age old concepts of God, family, and hard work have flown out the window and are being replaced with “Hope and Change” and “Change we can believe in.”
You can click on the link below to read more about the “Obama phone”… just have a barf bag ready.
If you think the link above is a sham, pull up google yourself and type in “free phones” and check it out for yourself.
The email above is just one of many chain emails being spread across the internet. In fact, if you do a search of You Tube there are even videos that users have submitted to spread this rumor.
The truth is there is a government program that provides free cell phones and cell phone minutes to eligible applicants. The program consists of two parts. The Link Up program provides subsidies to to applicants to start or setup phone service. This subsidy is used by free government cell phone providers to pay for the cell phone that is given to users. Lifeline Assistance subsidizes or fully pays for monthly phone service fees. The Lifeline subsidy can be up to 10 USD per month depending which state you are in.
Lifeline and LinkUp are supported by fees received by the Universal Service Fund. The Universal Service Fund collects fess from telecom operators, such as telephone companies, paging companies, etc. These companies in turn pass the fees onto their customers in the form of a Universal Service Fund fee. These fees are usually very small.
The program as it is known today was created by an act of Congress, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Earlier versions of the act were in operation as early as 1980s. So as you can see, the Obama administration had nothing to do with the enactment of the Universal Service Fund.
The intent of these programs is to insure that anyone, regardless of income, has access to telephone services to stay in contact with family members, make emergency calls, and communicate with employers.
Lifeline Assistance programs are not just for Welfare recipients as is suggested in the email above. Eligibility criteria differs from state to state, but generally applicants can qualify if their total household income is below 135%-150% of the Federal Poverty Limit or if they participate in certain government assistance programs, such as Medicaid, Section 8, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), or the National School Lunch’s Free Lunch Program.
Three large national companies and several regional players offer free government cell phones. The large national companies include Assurance Wireless, Reachout Wireless, and Safelink Wireless. Program details for each of these companies can be found by clicking the links.
Many people that the Obama Phone rumor was started by conservatives to attack President Obama. What we do know for certain is that these rumors are based on only a shred of truth. Visit our main page to learn more about these programs.