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Floridians Getting Free Cell Phones That You Pay For

Reported by: Mark Spain
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Updated: 11/20/2013 11:47 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Read the latest political polls and Obamacare is a dirty word in a lot of places including Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.  But if you're getting something for free that you might not otherwise be able to afford you might have a different take on things. 

"The Obama phone.  That's what everybody calls it," said a local low-income veteran.  He's talking about the government's free cellphone program, Lifeline.  People say it's a ringing success too many families at Hemming Plaza where dozens of homeless people spend a good part of their day.

"This is a government program where you can stay in contact with your family and you pay nothing at all.  It's alright.  And people that work and pay taxes are paying for it," said disabled veteran Simon Smith.

It's a sweet deal nearly a million Floridians are thanking taxpayers for.

"I get free minutes too and texting.  250 minutes a month for free and I can text," said one homeless woman.

But this program for low-income families is souring with some taxpayers.

"I think the government has too much waste.  People are able to get free cellphones, food stamps, housing and stuff like that," one taxpayer said.

The program is one I reported on nearly three years ago and it's still going strong.  However, new regulations are cracking down on fraud, waste and abuse.  Florida is also leading the charge to stop it.

"We're very proud of Florida because the FCC is holding Florida up as an example for other states.  And other states call me all the time and want to know about our systems and how we handle things," said Bob Casey, the Lifeline Section Supervisor in Florida.

Casey helped shut down providers in the state who were overcharging customers and falsely obtaining millions earmarked for the program.

In 2011, the agency overseeing the free government phones analyzed nearly 4 million Lifeline subscriber records in a dozen states.   The program allows for only one phone per household.  The agency looked at more than 800,000 Lifeline subscriber records in Florida and uncovered 50,000 duplications.

It saved the program hundreds of thousands of dollars.  But the fraud, waste and abuse in the program is a serious problem that Casey says Florida may never completely stop.  But he'll keep trying.       

"We may not stop it 100 percent, but we may get to 98 percent.  And when we find it we're going to get rid of it," said Casey.
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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Action News Jacksonville

whosaysnocan - 11/21/2013 9:18 AM
3 Votes
These phones are not a necessity. They are a luxury. If we could not afford to have cell phones, we would not have them. This is an insult to all those that work to provide for their own lifestyle. No surprise that there is fraud with this program. There is always abuse and fraud with most of the "entitlement" programs. There are many programs that need to be revamped and wipe out those that are gaming the systems. I know there will always be less fortunate within society, but to give these any luxury items is a slap in the face of those that work, pay the taxes on their work just to see these people hanging out all day taking and not giving back. Just what to they have to talk about and whom are they talking to? Set up phone banks where these people are allowed a certain time limit to phone whomever they need to talk to. Maybe they could get a job through it. I am so angry with all these programs and those that will not try to better themselves and then these pass down the "secrets" to their children/family on how to game the government and never have to seek employment. I also wonder what the disability is for that veteran that spoke in this report. How much is he receiving for said disability. What does he spend his money on? I am a veteran and I have much concern for many of them. I pray those that are in need receive what they require to live comfortably, but then there are some that are like this guy. What's up? Your comments were offensive and managed to anger those working to pay for you to hang out and use a free cell.

eviltwinmorgan - 11/21/2013 6:31 AM
0 Votes
"I think the government has too much waste. People are able to get free cellphones, food stamps, housing and stuff like that," one taxpayer said. My tax money is also going to foreign wars, the Egyptian military, and a host of other bull. If I have to deal with that, then you have to deal with helping the poor.

Truthseeker - 11/21/2013 4:29 AM
4 Votes
"Floridians Getting Free Cell Phones That You Pay For" What is wrong with this statement? There is nothing that is free!!! Everything is paid for by somebody. Those of us that get up everyday and go to jobs pay for the no loads out there. Contrary to what people think, a phone is not a necessity. For that matter, neither is the Internet. Plenty of people get by every day without either one of them. If you want the nicer things in life get off of your cans and GET A JOB.

angels072258 - 11/21/2013 3:21 AM
0 Votes
I have had my free government phone for years and cannot tell you what a blessing it is. There were many times that I was not home and someone needed to get a hold of me. If I did not have that phone on me know one was able to track me down. There are few items these days that you can actually get for free. So I disagree about the fraud allegations. Some people don't like it when some one else gets things for free especially those that can afford them.
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