Whether it's checking email, paying bills, or finding job opportunities on LinkedIn, it seems like everyone needs a cell phone to survive in today's fast-paced economy. Unfortunately, many low-income and rural Americans are still lacking the phone service they need to find jobs, connect with family, or reach out to first responders during emergencies. That's why many families have started taking advantage of the Lifeline program.
Congress first created the Lifeline program in 1985 to provide eligible low-income consumers with discounted monthly phone service. A few years ago under the Bush Administration, these discounts were expanded to include prepaid wireless service. Unfortunately, as the program expanded, no protections were put in place to prevent abuse in the system. Now, nearly half of current Lifeline recipients have not been properly certified to participate, and the program's "budget" has exploded to nearly $2.2 billion a year.
Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission has taken steps to crack down on Lifeline's rampant waste, fraud, and abuse. In February, they announced several proposals--including new eligibility databases and restrictions on wireless carriers--that will save us nearly $2 billion over 3 years. But we need to do more.
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, I want to implement smart reforms in government programs--like Lifeline--that will save Arkansas taxpayers' dollars. That's why I recently sent a letter to the FCC asking them to take additional steps to stop the explosive growth of the program. By curbing the participation of prepaid wireless providers, placing a hard cap on the amount of funding, and conducting a more thorough investigation of the program, I'm confident we can bring greater accountability and efficiency to the Lifeline program.