In 2013 and 2014, Media Literacy Project collected photos of support from New Mexicans for the Lifeline program. This program, which provides phone service to low-income individuals and families, had fallen victim to media stereotypes of public benefits fraud and abuse. Many New Mexicans still depend on the Lifeline program as the only way that they can call for help in an emergency, keep in contact with their children’s schools, or seek employment. We wanted to show that in New Mexico we support the Lifeline program and see its importance, no matter how many threats came from Capitol Hill to abolish the program entirely. As New Mexicans we won’t let the media use irresponsible speech and inaccurate representations destroy a program our friends, families, and neighbors need.
On March 28, 2014, Andrea Quijada delivered a poster that compiled the photos of support to the Chairman’s office of the Federal Communication Commission DC office. The poster petition was received by Gigi Sohn, Special Counsel for External Affairs. In the meeting, Andrea shared stories of New Mexicans who rely on the safety and security provided to them by their Lifeline phones. She also informed the Chairman’s staff that New Mexico would like to have the social security number requirement removed from the Lifeline application to effectively increase eligibility for all of our residents.
To see all the images from the poster and many others, please visit nmforlifeline.tumblr.com.
What is the Lifeline Program?
Started in 1985 under President Reagan, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and emergency services. Expanded in 2005 under President Bush, Lifeline discounts were made available to qualifying low-income consumers on pre-paid wireless service plans in addition to traditional landline service. Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund.
Who Can Use the Lifeline Program?
The Lifeline program is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands. Consumers with proper proof of eligibility may be qualified to enroll. To participate in the program, consumers must have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in a qualifying state, federal or Tribal assistance program. Consumers may also qualify if they are receiving benefits through supplemental income services.
Expanding the Lifeline Program
The FCC is working to expand Lifeline to include low cost internet service. While this is still in a testing stage, we need to act now to tell the FCC to expand the program across the country. Access to the internet is essential to participation in the modern economy, and it plays a vital role for students as many schools now just assume that students will have internet access available to complete their homework.
The Lifeline Program needs to be expanded in rural areas where cell phone service and internet are not widely available.
Some states have included 1-800 numbers as a free service under the Lifeline Program which doesn’t use a consumer’s monthly allotted minutes. This needs to be expanded to all states. Making free 1-800 calls is essential to providing a way for Lifeline customers to access social services, crisis hotlines, and utility services without having to worry about using all their minutes for the month.