Apr 25, 2013 7:00 PM by Josh Breslow
The advertisements are all over Lexington, promoting 250 minutes and a cell phone, absolutely free. It's part of the national "Lifeline Assistance Program," geared toward providing phone service to households meeting poverty guidelines and those eligible for other aid like food stamps.
"Basically, I call guys I work for and do odds and ends jobs for," said Twan Brown, a Lifeline user living in Lexington who calls the program a "lifesaver."
Brown is one of about 250,000 in Kentucky reaping the benefits. Enrollment in the US is estimated at 6-million and about $2.2-billion was spent on the program last year.
So who foots the bill? That would be you, the taxpayer. The charges show up on your phone bill under "Universal Service Charge," which in several of the bills we obtained is about $2.50 per month, along with an additional charge of 8-cents for people living in Kentucky.
Several Lexington taxpayers LEX 18 spoke to were not aware they were providing the funds.
"Makes me mad. It's an insult to working people trying to make a living," said Rick Bailey, a Kentucky taxpayer.
"I would prefer that it be an optional charge or something that was more thoroughly explained or just explained at all," said Angela Hamilton, a Kentucky taxpayer.
The program is no stranger to controversy. LEX 18 did some fact checking and, according to the Wall Street Journal, an investigation determined a whopping 41-percent of users either "couldn't demonstrate their eligibility or didn't respond to requests for certification."
LEX 18 also discovered that, about a year ago, the Federal Communications Commission began forcing carriers to verify subscribers meet all requirements and follow rules like "one phone per household."
"I got another one, but this one's my boyfriend's," said Connie Creech, another Lifeline user.
Creech said she recently moved in with her boyfriend, another subscriber. With two people in need living under one roof, she believes the program should be modified.
"If they think I'm abusing the privilege, then they can have these phones. It's no big deal, I'm not trying to use the government for nothing," Creech said.
While in many cases, it's unclear whether the rule breaking is deliberate, those benefiting from the controversial program hope a few bad apples won't spoil the bunch.
LEX 18 reached out to the FCC for comment. The agency has not responded.
What do you think about the program and the alleged abuse? Be sure to sound off on our LEX 18 Facebook page.