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Investigation: Free Government Cell Phones Handed Out to People Who Say They'll Sell Them for Drugs, Shoes, Handbags

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Sen. David Vitter made the following statement after an investigative video was published showing more waste, fraud and abuse with the free government cell phone program, "Lifeline". Vitter has introduced legislation to eliminate the welfare subsidy for mobile phone service in the Lifeline Program and restore the program to its original intent of providing landline service.

"The free government cell phones issue just keeps getting more outrageous," Vitter said. "This phone program has expanded far beyond its original intent, and having Washington force people to pay for free cell phones for others is offensive enough, but the waste, fraud and abuse is beyond words."

In March, Vitter first introduced his legislation as an amendment to the Senate budget resolution. The amendment failed 46-to-53. Vitter also introduced the legislation as an amendment to the Farm Bill recently, but a vote was blocked by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid.

TracFone, the largest beneficiary of the free cell phones, receiving more than $1.5 billion and $440 million in 2012 from the free cell phone program, recently ran attack ads against Vitter due to his efforts to eliminate the fraudulent program. A TracFone subsidiary, SafeLink Wireless, was sending text messages to cell phone recipients that read: "Save Lifeline! Call Sen Landrieu at 202-224-3121. Due to Sen. Vitter program is in jeopardy."

The Lifeline Program was created in 1984 to expand landline services for low-income households through the Universal Service Fund (USF). The program supporting mobile phones was expanded in 2008 to include wireless service provider and has grown from $143 million in 2008 to nearly $2 billion in 2012.

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