Obama Era Lifeline Program Audit Shows Over $300M Potentially Wasted

Gavin Hanson | Contributor

The Lifeline telecom subsidy — more commonly called “Obamaphone” — program may have wasted $336 million of its 2017 budget, according to a federal audit.

A Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Inspector General released a report indicating an eight-fold increase of improper or fraudulent payments in the program from 2016 to 2017.

The FCC’s IG conducted the investigation in response to a May 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found risks of fraud and wasted tax dollars in the Lifeline program. After the GAO report and a stricter 2017 audit, the Lifeline program was seen to have wasted nearly 22 percent, compared to less than three percent from the previous year.

Additionally, the GAO reported that 69 percent of Lifeline beneficiaries’ eligibility for the program had not been verified.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded with a proposal that primarily capped Lifeline spending at nearly $1.8 billion per year — an amount he said would be enough to cover all internet and landline access for eligible Americans. The proposal is rallying Democrats around Lifeline and against the chairman.

Sept. 10 was the start of the Washington, D.C. Public Service Commission’s Lifeline Awareness Week. Critics have subsequently redoubled their efforts to lambaste the FCC and Pai for the proposed budget constraint.

Democrats in the House of Representatives called attention to an alternate solution from Pai’s proposal: The Lifeline National Verifier.

The Lifeline National Verifier is a program live in six states — Colorado, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — and ensures that beneficiaries of Lifeline subsidies are eligible to receive government help. These states manage to confirm, more than any other states, that their Lifeline users are in fact eligible for the benefits they receive.

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