Sessions presses FCC on Obamaphone abuse, fraud

Caroline May | Reporter

After a well-off journalist easily obtained three Lifeline cell phones in early August — otherwise known as “Obamaphones” — Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions is looking to the Federal Communications Commission for answers.

The FCC is responsible for the Lifeline program, which provides subsidized cell phones to low-income people.

In a letter to FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, Sessions relayed his dismay at what journalist Jillian Kay Melchior described in her examination of the program in a National Review article.

“Crucially, participation in the program is supposed to be limited to those who have an income that is at or below 135% of the poverty level or participate in one of the many federal assistance programs, such as SNAP or Medicaid. Federal rules limit Lifeline phones to one per household,” Sessions, the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, wrote. “I am concerned that these basic, but fundamental, rules are not being enforced.”

In her article, Melchior details how she received three taxpayer subsidized cell phones, even though she was upfront about her ineligibility with the program’s representatives.

“In a recent article in National Review, ‘Me and My Obamaphones,’ the writer offers a ‘confession’ that readers are paying her phone bill and details how she does not meet any of the eligibility requirements listed above, but has received three Lifeline phones… The failure to check applicants’ eligibility might be one of the reasons the Lifeline program has more than doubled in recent years,” Sessions wrote.

The Alabama senator further noted that since 2008, the cost of the program has increased from $822 million to over $2 billion in 2012.

Sessions filed 10 questions for the FCC to answer by September 26, focused largely on what the agency is doing to prevent abuse and excess.

“It is important that all federal programs be effectively administered and that these programs adhere to the highest standards in order to protect the funds provided by the American people. The news article suggests serious flaws in this program. These public concerns must be addressed,” Sessions added.

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