The Buzz

McCaskill urged to back discount phone program for the poor, but she has issues with it

Updated: 2014-01-15T00:14:04Z

By STEVE KRASKE

The Kansas City Star

Advocates for the poor are urging Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to back a federal program that provides cell-phone service for the poor at a discount.

“We...are very concerned about calls for ending (the program), which is very needed for at-risk individuals and communities,” a letter to the Missouri Democrat said.

“The loss of this program would have a devastating impact on the lives of eligible Missouri residents, including minorities, seniors, veterans, single parents and low-income families.”

But McCaskill, who was the only Democrat to back an amendment that called for ending the Lifeline program, has raised issues about it. She pointed at companies that offer subsidized phone service through the program that allegedly hired sales agents on commission who signed up individuals without their knowledge.

In 2011, the senator called for the FCC to provide strong oversight after she received a solicitation at her home for a free cell phone from a participating provider in the Lifeline program. The mailer did not require documentation for proof of eligibility, and McCaskill is not eligible for the program.

The advocates for the poor, including the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and the Citizen Education Fund, said they shared McCaskill’s concern “to make sure this program is as efficient as possible and that all avenues for fraud are eliminated.”

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