Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Need a cell phone? Or three?

Did you ever wonder whether government programs are wasteful and inefficient?  Well don't.  That is the very nature of such programs.  Consider what is becoming known as the "Obamaphone" program.

From National Review Online:
"Me and My Obamaphones" by Jillian Kay Melchior
http://nationalreview.com/article/354867/me-and-my-obamaphones-jillian-kay-melchior
In the past month, I have received three shiny new cell phones, courtesy of American taxpayers, that should never have fallen into my hands.
The author was very clear that she was not on any other government program (required to be eligible for the Obamaphone) and in one case she was actually talking on her own phone while applying for her free phone!
And indeed, while doing research for another story, I had gone through the motions of applying for New York City welfare, which I also don’t qualify for. I showed him my Human Resources Administration paperwork packet and the case number assigned to me. I reiterated that though I had once applied, I had never been approved for any sort of benefit.
He brought out his electronic tablet immediately to sign me up for phone service. He asked if I had an insurance card, so I pulled out my trusty Blue Cross Blue Shield. He looked at it for a second, puzzled, then asked if I had Medicaid. No, I told him, just private insurance through my work plan.
“Private insurance? What’s that?” he asked, maybe not facetiously. My BCBS card was nevertheless photographed, as well as the first page of my Human Resources Administration paperwork. He asked for my name and my home address, and that was about it. The whole process took less than five minutes, and I had to provide no documentation verifying my income level or (nonexistent) welfare status.

The author also got referred to a competing cell phone provider, to get two phones, even though this is a violation of the program rules.
Schaefer also tells me that “consumers are, on their applications, required to certify under penalty of perjury that they will only be receiving one Lifeline discount.”

But when I went around New York signing up for multiple phones, I never even saw the applications; SafeLink and Assurance vendors filled out the necessary forms on their tablets on my behalf, clicking through so quickly that it must have been nearly muscle memory. And nobody mentioned perjury.

Granted, the first question the wireless reps asked was usually whether I was already enrolled in the Lifeline program. I told the truth: I had signed up recently, but the phone hadn’t arrived in the mail yet. Almost always, that got me re-entered into the system without hesitation.
And at one Lifeline location in East Harlem, I walked up to the wireless representative talking very loudly on my own smartphone. I hung up only to answer her questions. Now, keep in mind that the program is supposed to provide cell-phone service to people too poor to afford any phone whatsoever — but my application for a subsidized mobile was happily submitted, even as I dinked around very obviously on my existing smartphone.
So here’s the final count: I was able to apply on the street for one SafeLink phone and seven Assurance phones. I received one SafeLink phone and two Assurance phones, no questions asked. For several other applications, Assurance sent me requests for more financial information.
Why does this happen?  It's pretty easy to figure out, if you have half a brain.
And if you’ve been wondering why the companies are so eager to hand out free phones, the incentive is built into the program. As Griffin explains, “Of course, the way the program was set up, [wireless companies] were getting money for every one they could give out, so they gave out as many as they could.”