U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-In., is joining an effort to cut funding for a program aimed at expanding telephone service for the poor, which was attacked as the “Obama phones” program during the 2012 elections.
The Lifeline Program provides discounts on monthly telephone services for low-income consumers in order to ensure they have access to things such as 911 emergency services.
During last year’s presidential campaign, however, conservatives pounced on the program after a supporter falsely claimed the Obama campaign was passing out free cell phones.
The “Obama phones” meme gained a foothold in search engines and political narratives despite the fact it was created in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan.
Still, lawmakers are taking aim at the program in a bill being sponsored by Republican Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.
Coats says the program has ballooned under President Obama took office, expanding to include wireless service providers and spending increases from $143 million 2008 to $2.2 billion in 2012.
“Too often, Washington creates a program that may be well-intended, but ends up costing taxpayers more money because of poor implementation and a lack of oversight,” Coats said in a news release. “As many Hoosiers and middle class Americans continue to struggle in this economy, they shouldn’t have to pay for a program littered with fraud that subsidizes free cell phones. I will continue to push Congress and the administration to examine every federal program to find ways we can be more efficient and save taxpayer dollars.”
The program is funded through charges on consumer’s monthly landline and cell phone bills, but Republicans are arguing it has become another example of the federal government’s bloated welfare state.
Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported millions were improperly on the rolls to receive Lifeline’s benefits despite attempts to tighten eligibility.
A review of five top recipients of Lifeline support conducted by the FCC for the Journal showed that 41% of their more than six million subscribers either couldn’t demonstrate their eligibility or didn’t respond to requests for certification.
A copy of the legislation can be found here.