When President Reagan instituted the “Lifeline” program in order to help poor people in rural areas have a phone in cases of emergency, he could hardly have imagined the tremendous cost of adding cellphones to the initiative.
"The cost has gone from $143 million a few years ago to $2.2 billion today," Republican Louisiana Sen. David Vitter said, Cellphones were added to the plan in 2008. Some lawmakers say that the program, which is only supposed to legally cover low-income people on welfare and food stamps, has gotten out of control, Fox News reported.
"The FCC, itself, said in a recent year there were 270,000 beneficiaries that had more than one of these subsidized cellphones,” Vitter said. “That's completely against the law right there."
He’s not the only one who thinks the program needs to be examined.
"I got solicitation for a free phone at my apartment, which is certainly not a building where you're going to have people who are qualified for free phones,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill. “There is clearly money being wasted here. Just handing out phones willy nilly and allowing them to be sold on the black market. This isn't the way to do it, and we need to stop."
The program is funded by a small tax on phone bills and has caused many companies to advertise free phones offering 250 minutes. Sometimes the cost of handing out the easily accessible phones isn’t the only problem.
"I hear from law enforcement that these phones are often found at crime scenes and are used in drug deals," Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas said. "Why? It's because you can't trace them."
Some recipients of the devices have called them "Obama phones.”