The federal program to supply free or discount phone service to the poor has been around since the ‘80s, but enrollment took off so much in recent years, free government cell phones became known as “Obamaphones.” Now, a new report by the Government Accountability Office suggests that another good nickname for those cell phones might be “Fraudphones.” They're certainly not "Smartphones."
The investigation begun in 2014 after Rep. Claire McCaskill got a piece of junk mail urging her to apply for a free government cell phone (I assume she already gets one.) The GAO found that between 36 and 63% of applicants’ forms included easily-detectable lies that should have made them ineligible. But those bogus applications were approved 63% of the time. Overall, only about a third of applicants could even be confirmed as eligible, meaning two-thirds of those getting a free cell phone at taxpayer expense might not even be poor. The GAO also found more than 5500 people enrolled for more than one free phone and about 6400 phones given out under the names of people who were dead. Although to be fair, if you were buried under six feet of dirt, you’d want to have a cell phone handy
Rep. McCaskill said everything that could go wrong with the program did, and we’re letting cell phone companies cash a giant check from US taxpayers every month on the honor system. I applaud her for caring about this, but as a Democrat, her natural inclination is to blame the corporations and let the government and the entitlement cheats off the hook.
Let’s be honest: cell phone companies don't deserve all the blame. Anytime Washington creates a new entitlement program, there will be people who think they’re entitled to get something free at other people’s expense, because that’s exactly what the government is telling them. When Washington “redistributes” other people’s money and doesn’t police eligibility, there will always be fraud and abuse. That’s just as much the fault of the government as it is of the people who exploit it.
Can you hear me now?
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