Tags: Obama | phone | video | viral

'Obamaphone' Video Sparks Debate on Lifeline Service

By David A. Patten   |   Friday, 28 Sep 2012 09:22 PM

A video of a woman bragging that she supports President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign because he “gave us a phone” has gone viral on the Internet, spotlighting the growing debate over spiraling U.S. spending on entitlements.

“Keep Obama as president,” the unidentified woman informally dubbed “the Obama phone lady” says in the video. “He gave us a phone.”

This appears to be a reference to a federal program called Lifeline that provides free phones to the indigent so they can access essential services.

See the video that sparked the debate. Story continues below.

Lifeline pre-dates the Obama administration. But since 2008, its cost has more than doubled from $772 million to $1.6 billion, as the number of Lifeline accounts jumped from 7.1 million to 12.5 million, according to Bloomberg News.

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Technically Lifeline is not a taxpayer-funded program, because telephone companies defray their cost by charging their customers a “Universal Service” charge on their bills. Consumers who pay for their phone services subsidize free phones for those who do not.

Although eligibility varies by state, those making less than 135 percent of the federal poverty level generally qualify for the phones. A family of four with a household income of $30,000 would be eligible.

The “Obama phone” video has become part of a growing debate in the campaign over the merits of entitlement spending, one that Democrats are confident they will win.

The issue came to the fore after a video surfaced of GOP nominee Mitt Romney describing the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax as those “who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

One GOP member of congress, Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas, has been pushing legislation to end the phone subsidies.

He points to a 2011 audit that found nearly 270,000 Lifeline users had double accounts, meaning they were getting free phones and services from two or more carriers. Since that audit, the FCC has reformed the program that it now touts will save tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Yet the program continues to grow.

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Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is among those troubled by Lifeline’s burgeoning costs. According to Fox News, she became concerned about potential fraud after she received a pitch in the mail informing her she was eligible for a free phone.

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