Nolan Finley, writing for the Detroit News, is making the case this week for setting an example in defunding wasteful entitlement programs by axing the “Obamaphone.” He refers to the $2.1 billion annual program providing free cell phones to low income individuals who qualify for other federal assistance so that they can seek and obtain work, contact family members or dial for emergency help. But the program is widely known to be fraud riddled, with an estimated 40% of phones going to the ineligible. So why hasn’t it been scrapped or at least overhauled?
So why hasn’t it been axed? Because federal spending programs rarely die, and are even more rarely reformed.
Every dollar the government spends has a constituency. In this case, the private companies providing the phones are perversely motivated to ignore eligibility requirements — the more phones they pass out, the more money they make. The recipients of the phones are voters, and the administration has no incentive to alienate its own voters to save such a piddling amount as $2.1 billion.
For evidence of precisely how corrupt this boondoggle has become, he points to the experiences of National Review writer Jillian Kay Melchior, who managed to obtain not one, but three phones in short order, without lying about her status in any way and while being completely ineligible. Be sure to read her story.
Confession: You’re paying my phone bill.
In the past month, I have received three shiny new cell phones, courtesy of American taxpayers, that should never have fallen into my hands…
My first task was figuring out where to register. The rule of thumb is that wherever you can sign up for food stamps, you can apply for an Obamaphone.
Representatives from SafeLink and Assurance, two of the leading New York Lifeline vendors, stand outside the food-stamp offices, paired like Mormon missionaries, young and polite and earnest. They carry electronic tablets and ask all passersby whether they’ve received their free phone “yet” — as if it were an inevitability.
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