An obscure welfare program that provides free cell phones to low-income Americans came to national prominence when a video went viral of an Ohio woman exclaiming that she “got an Obamaphone,” and the spotlight has brought with it increased congressional oversight.
“I write to express serious concerns about the Lifeline program, a part of the Universal Service Fund (USF) that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, outlayed more than $9.3 billion in FY2012,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairman, Mignon Clyburn.
Sessions cited a National Review column by NAME who wrote about receiving three of the phones despite failing to meet any eligibility requirements for the program.
“The failure to check applicants’ eligibility might be one of the reasons the Lifeline program has more than doubled in recent years—from $822 million in 2008 to over $2 billion in the latest annual report from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC),” Sessions said.
Sessions asked Clyburn a series of questions about how the FCC runs the program and avoids waste or abuse. The letter is a first step for the lawmaker in investigating and reforming Lifeline, as well as the broader array of entitlement programs.
“Definitely, it’s going to be something that we’re going to continue pursuing,” Andrew Logan, a spokesman for Sessions, told the Washington Examiner. “We will have a pretty good idea of how the program is working and how that might be diverging from how its supposed to work [when the FCC answers the questions].”
Logan added that “this is not a one-off kind of thing; it’s really part of a broader, growing concern that the welfare state in America — we’ve lost a lot of the gains from the welfare reform in  and we really need to reexamine the whole host of benefits and programs that we offer.”