Sen. McCaskill proposes law to end free cell phone program

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by KMOV.com staff

KMOV.com

Posted on March 22, 2013 at 7:31 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 22 at 11:50 PM

(KMOV.com) -- Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced an amendment that would eliminate a government-sponsored free cell phone program that is riddled with fraud and abuse.

Under the Lifeline program, telephone companies lower the phone bill each month for households receiving low-income or disability benefits. Some companies provide free wireless minutes each month, or even free cell phones.

The investigation began when News 4's Chris Nagus learned government funded phones were showing up in the mailboxes of St. Louis residents who didn't even want them.

Even McCaskill, whose Senate salary is $174,000 a year, was solicited by a cell phone provider for a government-sponsored phone.

These phones are paid for by the Universal Service Fee, a charge attached to your phone bill.

Last year, Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin proposed the "Stop Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act."

"If we can't deal with this, how can we deal with the broader spending problem that we have?" said Griffin. "The government doesn't need to be providing cell phones anyway."

Sen. McCaskill is quoted as agreeing with this sentiment.

"As we grapple with shrinking federal budgets, there's just no reason this program should continue, given its history of extensive waste and abuse," said McCaskill.

Supporters of the program told News 4 the phones are vital to low-income Americans, who need the phones for emergencies and work.

News 4 also spoke with some people who say they aren't trying to take advantage of the system. They say they don't want the bad apples to ruin it for everyone.

Sharon McCaster says she uses her free government issued cell phone for emergencies and to take calls about potential jobs.
 
She says when she got it, she proved she was poor.
 
“I get food stamps and my ID and I was eligible to get one. Thank god, because I sure need it,” McCaster said.

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