31 Senior, Hispanic, Consumer, Disabled, And Other Groups Urge U.S. House To Preserve Wireless Lifeline For Disadvantaged

Apr 25, 2013, 09:46 ET from League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) from ,Alliance for Retired Americans from from from from from

Total of 4 Letters Sent to Capitol Hill Highlight Efforts to Eliminate Inefficiencies in Cell Phone Service for Those in Need; Health, Security and Employment Benefits of Program  Emphasized.

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ahead of a hearing today before the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, 31 leading organizations – including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Alliance for Retired Americans, Consumer Action, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights,  NAACP, The National Grange, and the World Institute on Disability – are sending letters to Capitol Hill urging that the wireless Lifeline program be continued.

A total of four letters were sent by the 31 groups to the House subcommittee.   In one letter signed available online at http://www.kacousa.org/resources/, 21 of the concerned groups noted:   "… we are writing to express our strong support for the Universal Service Fund's (USF) wireless Lifeline program and to set the record straight.  Wireless Lifeline is not a handout, it is a hand up. It is in our society's best interest to empower our neediest citizens with the ability to communicate with prospective and current employers, connect with emergency, health, social, and educational services, and keep in touch with family and friends."

The joint letter continues: "Regrettably, a wealth of misinformation exists around the Lifeline program. Subsidized basic phone service for low-income consumers has been a priority in this country since the Reagan Administration, when Congress first enacted the Lifeline program in 1985. In recognition of the technological shift toward and benefits of mobility, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the George W. Bush Administration expanded the program to include wireless service in 2005."

The groups noted that Lifeline wireless, far from being out of control, is actually still not serving all of those intended by Congress. The letter reads:  "While some have expressed concerns about the growing size of the Lifeline program, just half of those who qualify for Lifeline benefits actually participate.  Participation has increased due in large measure to the economic downturn. Furthermore, Lifeline accounts for less than 20 percent of the annual $9 billion Universal Service Fund total expenditures, compared to the 'High Cost Fund' which accounts for $4.5 billion a year of USF money. Furthermore, wireless Lifeline goes directly to individuals in the form of real – and much needed – services." 

The groups acknowledged that steps are needed to ensure that the wireless Lifeline program is as efficient as possible.  "While we share concerns about instances of waste, fraud and abuse in the wireless Lifeline program, which divert support from those who truly deserve it, we also must recognize that industry and FCC reforms already are working.  We fully support the FCC's major reforms adopted in January of 2012, and the action the agency took to deter duplicative subsidies in the summer of 2011. We agree that consumers should have to demonstrate their eligibility for service and verify that no one else in their household is using the program at the time they sign up. We also applaud the requirement that carriers must, on an annual basis, check a state or federal social service database to confirm eligibility."

The letter from the 21 organizations debunks the notion that wireless Lifeline is contributing to the U.S. deficit. According to the groups: "We recognize that our nation is facing tough budgetary times. However, cutting or even eliminating the wireless Lifeline program will not reduce the federal deficit by one penny. The program is funded by contributions from telecommunications companies, which may elect to share the costs of those contributions with their subscribers. Far from imposing a burden on taxpayers, wireless Lifeline has been proven to help low-income people find and keep jobs, ultimately reducing spending on public assistance programs.

The letter is signed by (in alphabetical order) Alliance for Generational Equity (AGE), Alliance for Retired Americans, the American Association of People with Disabilities, Anti-Hunger Action Committee, California Alliance for Retired Americans, Coalition of Religious Communities, Community Action Partnership, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Crossroads Urban Center, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Maryland CASH Campaign, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National Consumers League, NETWORK - A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Older Women's League, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, and the World Institute on Disability.  

The following organizations signed the other three letters:  American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian American Justice Center, Member Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, NAACP, The National Grange, National Organization for Women, and the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.

SOURCE League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); Alliance for Retired Americans; Consumer Action; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; NAACP; The National Grange; World Institute on Disability