Vitter: Cell phone subsidy offensive

Published: May. 10, 2013 at 10:53 PM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2013 at 10:53 PM CDT
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U.S. Sen. David Vitter wants to put a stop to a welfare initiative that provides free cell phones to low income households. It's a government program called lifeline that was started in the 80s to expand landlines to rural areas and the underserved.

This program is paid for by you - every time you pay your cell phone bill you're paying a service fee. Vitter says the cost has grown from a few million to 2.3 billion dollars.

"I'm just going to need a copy of your food stamp card, is all I need," a provider of a free cell phone service says to a passerby on Fairfield. She solicits potential recipients while sitting at a fold-up table with a laptop computer.

"How much verification of the rules can you have in that situation? I mean they're just handing out free cell phones as quickly as they get them out," said Vitter.

Vitter has introduced legislation to do away this program completely.

"And I don't think cell phones belong on the list of so called necessities that taxpayers have to fund," said Vitter.

Many of the recipients said they have cell phones of their own, and use these free phones with about 200 minutes, as a back- up.

"And sometimes I let my children use it. I don't have a house phone, so [when] I go somewhere, I leave my phone with them," said one woman.

Vitter's legislation has to go to the floor of the U.S. Senate, and it has to be introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

Vitter, a Republican, doubts Reid will do that, so he says he'll look for every opportunity to go around that obstacle to attach his legislation to a bill that promises to be heard.

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