Gov­ern­ment work

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Life, lib­erty and . . . free cell­phone ser­vice? The ques­tion­able Obama­phone pro­gram is still plagued by waste, fraud and abuse.

Yet an­other U.S. Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice au­dit has found wide­spread waste in the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s Life­line pro­gram, which of­fers free or re­duced-price phone and In­ter­net ser­vice for low­in­come ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

Ser­vices are sup­posed to be lim­ited to one par­tic­i­pant per house­hold for those with in­comes of no more than 135 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty line, or who re­ceive ben­e­fits un­der a means-tested wel­fare pro­gram such as Med­i­caid, fed­eral hous­ing as­sis­tance (Sec­tion 8) or the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram (food stamps). The pro­gram is funded by a Univer­sal Ser­vice Fund tax, which is gen­er­ally passed on to land­line and wire­less con­sumers and item­ized on their bills.

The Life­line pro­gram was ini­tially es­tab­lished in 1985 dur­ing the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion, but grew sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter pre­paid wire­less car­ri­ers be­gan of­fer­ing wire­less Life­line ser­vice in 2008, along with free cell­phones, prompt­ing it to be dubbed the “Obama­phone” pro­gram. A lack of ac­count­abil­ity led to sub­stan­tial fraud and abuse, as those who should have been el­i­gi­ble were signed up and many re­ceived mul­ti­ple free phones. En­roll­ment sky­rock­eted, from 6.8 mil­lion house­holds in 2008 to 18.1 mil­lion in 2012, and the cost of the pro­gram rose 167 per­cent dur­ing that time, from $820 mil­lion to $2.2 bil­lion.

And waste, fraud and abuse con­tinue to be ma­jor prob­lems for the trou­bled pro­gram. The GAO study found that the FCC was un­able to con­firm the eli­gi­bil­ity of 36 per­cent of the 3.5 mil­lion Life­line ac­counts the GAO re­viewed. Thou­sands of ac­counts be­longed to ei­ther fake or dead peo­ple, cost­ing tax­pay­ers more than $100 mil­lion in im­proper pay­ments, the study con­cluded.

Broad­band ser­vice, and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vices gen­er­ally, may be a valu­able ser­vice, but it is hardly an un­alien­able right pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion.

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