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Your money at work: Cell phones for the poor

November 16, 2009

I found it particularly bothersome that there is actually a program that gives assistance to low-income households so they can have…get ready for it…cell phones!  It’s called “Lifeline.”  Previously they only assisted low-income households afford landline telephone service, but I suppose they felt that didn’t go far enough to ease the plight of poor people.  So now, if you qualify, you can get assistance acquiring a cell phone and paying the monthly bill. 

And how do they pay for this?  Surcharges on YOUR phone bill. 

Obviously, I’m not ok with this.  It’s yet another instance where hard-earned money is being stolen to pay for what amounts to (in my book) “social justice.”  Apparently the ability to communicate wirelessly is being added to the growing list of our inalienable rights.  *snort*  


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Greg Karber permalink
    November 16, 2009 5:26 pm

    Cell phones are cheaper than land lines. It’s not that this goes farther, it that it actually saves money. Not having a phone number makes it very difficult to apply to jobs, among other things, and contributes to the cycle of poverty.

    • November 16, 2009 5:40 pm

      I had a landline a couple of years ago. I got it specifically for use when people called to be let in the gate of my apartment complex. I got the most basic package with one line. It cost me less than $20 a month. That is NOT cheaper than a cell phone. Unless of course you’re getting your cell phone service from the same company that’s selling unicorn horns and pixie dust.

      Now, this landline was good for use with any local numbers and for calling 911 should the event ever arise. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if I had been looking for a job during that time, do you think that landline would have met my needs? It seems as though it would.

      Cell phones are not a necessity. There ARE still people who don’t use them and seem to magically make it through the day unscathed. To say that lack of cell phones contribute to the cycle of poverty is utterly ridiculous.

      But if you insist that it’s true, I’d be willing to take a look at any pieces of proof you have.


      • November 16, 2009 6:41 pm

        People aren’t going to be scathed by their inability to pay for a cell phone, but it is going to make it much more difficult for them to get or keep a job. Few employers like to pay people they can’t get in touch with, and Wal-Mart doesn’t want to have to page you and wait for you to get to a public phone.

        And while cell phone monthly plans at AT&T might be incredibly expensive, there are tons of prepaid pay-as-you-go cell phone services that would cost less than $20 a month, depending on your usage rates. I’m not sure if this link ( will work for you, as I had to enter my local zip code, but here in Columbia, MO, you can get a GoPhone and pay only $3 on days you use your phones, or they have an anytime twenty-five cents a minute feature, with no additional fees.

        Are you saying the program is always bad, or that only the cell phone component of it is? If you’re saying this is always bad, I would like to know how you suggest that people who cannot afford phones (the program is only available to people who make less than $14,621 a year) go about finding a better job so that they can afford to purchase a phone? Otherwise, I believe your assertion that lack of cell phone access does not contribute to the cycle of poverty to be unfounded.

  2. November 16, 2009 5:50 pm

    The basic land-line I have costs $13 a month. I think you’d be hard pressed to get a cell company willing to even let you in the door if that was all you could spend.

    And while providing a phone of any type to the poor may be a worthy and worthwhile goal is it one that should be carried out by the government? Or would such a service be better handled through church or community charity organizations?

    If I’m barely making ends meet shouldn’t I be able to say that I’d rather spend that money on not skipping lunch today instead of buying someone else a phone. It may be selfish but I have the right to be a little selfish if I want, don’t I?

    • Greg Karber permalink
      November 16, 2009 6:29 pm

      Church and community service groups certainly do a lot, but to argue that all social programs should be handled through them seems a little foolhardy. For example, rural electrification in the first half of the twentieth century provided access to electricity in areas where there was not a high enough demand for private enterprises to afford the setup costs. Certainly, infrastructure projects such as this are not better handled by the unorganized efforts of various church and community service groups, noble and helpful as these organizations may be.

      • November 16, 2009 6:40 pm

        This isn’t even close to being the same thing. The infrastructure is there. The problem is that certain parts of the population can’t afford it.

        So yes, it is quite appropriate for churches and community service organizations to fill in the gap when appropriate. It is not, however, appropriate for the government to mandate that our money be spent to pay for items such as cell phones for low-income households.

        If YOU want to spend your money on such endeavors, good for you. That’s great that you’re willing to help out. But it should be because you want it, and not because the government forced you to.


      • November 16, 2009 7:14 pm

        I disagree on some fundamental levels, your assertion that “to argue that all social programs should be handled through them [church and community service groups] seems a little foolhardy” seems itself foolhardy and uniformed.

        The government of the united states was not established with any intention of helping people through hard personal times. And there has been throughout the nation’s history a debate about how much social service the government should provide vs how much should be community based. I should certainly hope that if either side of that argument was truly foolhardy then the argument would have died down some within the past 225+ years, a figure based on the idiotic assumption that the debate started with the founding of this nation. Instead of dying down however, we find the debate being a huge point in politics and government today, from government bailouts, to unemployment, to healthcare reform, to cell phones for the poor.

        As for the comparison to rural electrification and other infrastructure improvements, I believe Trish made some wonderful points on this one. Basically the comparison is not a valid one, it’s akin to arguing we should give everyone a car because we built roads

  3. November 16, 2009 8:25 pm

    I do think it’s very sad that people who cannot afford cars are unable to make use of the incredibly expensive highway and road systems that our government has built. Again, like I said, it contributes to the cycle of poverty: the government subsidizes cellular companies, highway construction, etc., and yet the poorest of the poor are unable to make use of these.

    I’m also confused by your claim that its an idiotic assumption that the debate started with the founding of the nation. I’m not really sure what you mean by that. Please clarify.

    Regarding your assertion that “the government of the united states was not established with any intention of helping people through hard personal times,” I don’t really think that has any bearing. The government of the United States was originally isolationist. The government of the United States was not established to give basic rights to women, or black people (and didn’t, in fact, until the twentieth century). It allowed slaves. The intentions behind the establishment of the United States are not the determining factors in the intentions of the government today. I believe that the government of the United States should help people through hard personal times (and this, of course, includes medical care, though we can discuss that at a later time), and that if it does this, our entire country will be more competitive on the international stage. We could discuss this at length, as it is a large and complicated ideological conflict.

    I was hoping to focus more specifically on the issue at hand. I’ve addressed some points in an earlier post, a reply to one of Trisch’s posts, that I would like your thoughts on. Thank you very much!

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