REMEMBER THE OBAMAPHONE LADY?
Well, it is true that you get free phones with a federal program called Lifeline but the program has become a joke. It was started when people had landlines but has ballooned into a HUGE boondoggle for fraud and theft. In fact, there’s a fraud investigation going on with the FCC but they kept it under wraps until the vote passed 3-2 to expand to broadband. This is soft tyranny…our government needs to be checked in a BIG way!
Federal regulators were instructed to keep a massive fraud investigation under wraps until a day after a controversial vote to expand a program that was allegedly used to bilk taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars, one those regulators claims.
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday announced that it would seek $51 million in damages from a cell phone company that allegedly defrauded the federal Lifeline program of nearly $10 million.
The commission’s five members unanimously backed the Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), but Republican commissioner Ajit Pai parted from his colleagues in a partial dissent. According to Pai, he and other commissioners were told not to reveal the details of its investigation until April 1, a day after the FCC voted to expand the Lifeline program.
“Commissioners were told that the Notice of Apparent Liability could not be released or publicly discussed until April 1, 2016, conveniently one day after the Commission was scheduled to expand the Lifeline program to broadband,” Pai wrote. “That’s not right.”
Pai did not say who issued that directive. However, it had the effect of preventing public knowledge of widespread fraud in the Lifeline program ahead of a contentious vote on expanding it despite persisting concerns about a lack of internal safeguards.
FCC spokesman Will Wiquist insisted that the timing was completely coincidental. “The timing of the enforcement action was in no way related to the timing of the vote on the program modernization,” he said in an email.
Lifeline has faced controversy over enrollment requirements that its critics say are too lax and vulnerable to fraud. The service, which subsidizes cell phone plans for low-income Americans, allows beneficiaries to enroll using cards issued for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a welfare program that has also faced fraud allegations.
Critics of the Lifeline program began calling its subsidized cell phones “Obamaphones” early in the Obama administration in response to viral YouTube videos of beneficiaries thanking the president for their free phones. The program was actually created under President Ronald Reagan.
The FCC’s NAL last week accused cell phone provider Total Call Mobile, which provides Lifeline services in 19 states, of “systematic and egregious misconduct” and “widespread enrollment fraud.”
According to the commission, Total Call employees enrolled tens of thousands of duplicate Lifeline beneficiaries and pocketed the extra subsidies. The FCC caught onto the scheme when the company enrolled an undercover FCC investigator in the program without asking for any eligibility documentation.
“Since 2014, Total Call has requested and received an estimated $9.7 million dollars in improper payments from the Universal Service Fund for duplicate or ineligible consumers despite repeated and explicit warnings from its own employees, in some cases compliance specialists, that company sales agents were engaged in widespread enrollment fraud,” the FCC said in a news release.
A common means of fraudulent enrollment was the repeated use of a single SNAP identification card, according to the FCC. That drew the ire of Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, who said the use of SNAP cards as Lifeline verification mechanisms is woefully inadequate.
“I must once again lodge my extreme frustration that the Commission continues to rely on SNAP as an entry point in the Lifeline program, and has the gall to claim that it is a highly accountable program, when it is painfully obvious to anyone paying attention that SNAP is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse,” he wrote in a partial dissent in the Total Call case.
Despite those ongoing concerns, the FCC recently voted to expand the Lifeline program to include subsidies for 3G wireless broadband service.
That vote followed a contentious debate over the scope of the expansion and its accompanying price tag. The commission approved the expansion by a narrow 3-2 vote on March 31, a day before the FCC announced its Total Call NAL.
Read more: WFB