McCaskill says free cell phone program filled with fraud - KCTV5

McCaskill says free cell phone program filled with fraud

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Missouri Sen. Clare McCaskill said a program that many people help pay for is filled with fraud.

The Lifeline program was set up nationwide to help provide cell phones to the poor and disabled. People who qualify can get a free phone and 250 free minutes per month paid for by a special tax that shows up on everyone else's bill called "federal universal service charge."

Ida Henderson's elderly mom has a free phone and she says it's a life-saving tool.

"This is the only phone she has. She don't have a land line, just the cellphone, so she uses it for emergency, if she needs to call the police or paramedics. It's easy for her because, if she runs out of minutes, she can still call 911," Henderson said.

Terrance Scales said he has a job, but still needs government assistance to survive. He was upset to learn that there is a push to end the Lifeline program because of so many uncovered cases of fraud.

"I just hope the government can see the fact that a lot of people aren't defrauding the system, they really do need it," he said.

McCaskill says there is so much fraud going on by people who don't actually qualify that she is calling for it to be shut down.

"The execution of this program has been embarrassing, wasteful and in many instances down right fraudulent," she said.

McCaskill introduced legislation to stop the Lifeline program because several of the cellphone companies were fined by the Federal Communications Commission for duplicating applications, not verifying eligibility and even creating bogus customers.

"When you pay people per person, you are creating an incentive for them to manufacture applications," she said.

Dave Kingsley with the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans says many elderly people on a fixed income will be cut off from society if the program goes away.

"You can't blame all low-income people for what a few do any more than you can blame all defense contractors for a few that commit fraud," Kingsley said.

McCaskill sent a letter to the FCC urging them to have stronger oversight on the program to stop the fraud. She said she even got a letter at her home asking her to apply for a free phone and the mailer did not require any proof of eligibility.

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