Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SafeLink Wireless: Available in Georgia

Update: SafeLink now has a competitor, and they're offering a better deal. See our post about Assurance Wireless.

SafeLink Wireless is now available to people who qualify for the federal Lifeline program in Georgia. As I've mentioned before, this is a free mobile phone and 68 free minutes/month for lower-income people who qualify. If you live in Georgia, read the FAQ for specific eligibility requirements and decide if this is a program for you.

(In a few days, I'll post an analysis about whether this is actually a good deal for CVM clients and other low-income people. Initial analysis indicates it's only a good financial deal if you never use more than the free minutes provided in the program. If you buy any more minutes, the cost/minute is more expensive than other carriers).

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, great.

I wondered how people in the grocery store using food stamps are frequently seen talking or sending text messages on their cell phones - and nice cell phones.

Now our government will pay for that.

I know - it is one of their rights.

Community Voice Mail said...

I think the fact that so many low-income people (on food stamps, etc.) have cell phones is testament to the value that a phone has in their lives. They have prioritized this expenditure because being able to make/receive calls is important, and often a requirement to get a job, find housing, and stay connected to society.

The "government" already pays for telecommunications services for low-income people who qualify, using funds paid into the Universal Service Fund by telecommunications companies. You may recognize the Universal Service Fund as a line-item on your phone bill. Phone companies have to pay into this fund, and while not required to, most (all?) pass these costs along to their customers.

The free mobile phones available through the SafeLink Wireless program are funded through the LifeLine program, which comes from the money collected as part of the USF. SafeLink is the first mobile carrier to receive funds for mobile phones; prior to this, it was only available as a subsidy for landline phones. Definitely not a "right," but a modest subsidy that some low-income people are eligible for. When they no longer meet eligibility requirements (usually receiving public assistance or an income maximum), they no longer get the subsidy.

Here's a summary document about the LifeLine program and the USF-funded programs for low-income Americans. Here's another document with recent data from this program.

Anonymous said...

I am a recipient of one of the safelink phones....and I must say it is a lifesaver...literally.
I am disabled and my daughter is a diabetic and my husband has been out of work for 6 months. Without this phone program we would not even be able to call for an ambulance...Anonymous...Give it a break....FYI just because people are on food stamps doesnt make them the scum of the earth...prepaid cell phones are a great invention...and unless you are looking at other peoples business you shouldnt even know what others are doing when they pay for thier groceries(ie: sending text, paying with food stamps etc)...There are some of in this country that actually NEED them and when we dont we dont go on them just because we can. It would be nice if you supported people in the community that have less than possibly you do, some of us are hardworking members of the community and are just in the throlls of the recession...There but for the Grace of God go I..You might be in my shoes one of these days...68 minutes is not alot trust me but in an emergency it is a lifesaver...I am grateful for sure...
Thanks for letting me share...

Anonymous said...

This is a good reminder that a cell phone may be seen as a luxury item for someone who is low income but when it is literally a life line who could argue to its importance or the need to remove the barriers to access.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, when you lose your job, and your lights are turned off or you can't get help because you don't have a phone. Then you will change your tone. I hope this happens REAL SOON and it last long enough for you to REALLY expericne what it feels like and maybe then you'll have a change of heart. Cynthia

Judy said...

Do you know why the economy is in the shape it is in?It is because of greed.you know there comes a time when people need.I sometimes feel because of the attitude of people like ANONYMOUS it sometimes comes back on that person just to put them in their place .So look out. You are probally not far behind. People are human beings.Your are probally the type of person that would give to the humane society and not help your own neighbor.Where is your heart?I personally pay for my own cell phone every month.I buy my own groceries.But,things are difficult right now and anybody that can get that as an honest human being and giving it their best to survive the more power to them.See who God blesses first. Why not let the government pay for it.These same people receiving these much needed services are the ones probally most deserving of assistance.They most likely have at sometime or the other put in their share of taxes to help provide these services. OR maybe we should give it as a bonus to some big CEO at one of your money hungry banks. Judy

Anonymous said...

Community Voice Mail: In your January 26th post, the link to the "summary" doesn't work. The "another document" link does work, but doesn't give information regarding where the document came from, date, etc. Can you help? Has anyone that you know of managed to figure out how to receive a phone through Safelink if you don't have a residential address/are homeless?

Thanks.

Community Voice Mail National Office said...

Hi Anonymous on 4/21. Thanks for posting. I looked back through the original posts about SafeLink, and can't find the broken links that you mention (every link on the Jan. 26 post works). Could you let me know the specific links that don't work, and re-post as a comment? Or, send to salbertson@cvm.org.

Also, if you look at some of the comments for this post and the other SafeLink-related ones, you'll see a few people who have received phones despite the unique address requirement. My quick check of this tells me that some case managers at agencies are letting the client use the agency address for this, but of course, this only works for the first client to try it.

I'm going to blog about this in the coming days, but based on a review of data from the nonprofit that manages the Universal Service Fund expenditures (called USAC, www.usac.org), it appears that TracFone sold nearly 300,000 phones through its SafeLink Wireless program in the last four months of 2008. That's a lot of phones, and unless this program isn't reaching people in the same situation as CVM clients, it's unlikely that they're all using their "home" address.

Anonymous said...

Not all areas of Ga are covered in this program.

Heidi said...

My son who has stolen $18,000.00 from us and is 22 years old and only worked five months part time in the last five years now has a free govenrment taxpayer paid cekll phone. He chooses to steal and NOT work and our government rewards him for it and punishes the taxpayer who works for a living. Welfare phones!

Community Voice Mail National Office said...

Thanks for the comment Heidi (9/16/09), and sorry to hear your story. At least in my experience working with Community Voice Mail clients, I think this story and others like it are the exception rather than the rule. I haven't met many people who like being poor and depending on the government (or anyone else) for their livelihood. Again, thanks for taking the time to write.

Anonymous said...

I recently received my free phone from Safelink about a month ago and it has been amazing. I was let go about six months ago from my job and have been jobless since. With my family suffering, being eligible for this phone has helped us enormously. It has helped me stay connected and created an opportunity for a healthy change in my life. I love Safelink!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm so surprised at how ignorant some of the post here have been! These are NOT Obama-phones, they are NOT 'welfare' phones, and...they are NOT, NOT, NOT paid for by taxpayers! http://factcheck.org/2009/10/the-obama-phone/ The very same program that has helped put a low cost cell phone in the hands of many that need them, has been around since 1984! Now, when a person qualifies for the FCC "LifeLine" program they have a choice. The first choice IS a subsidy...it is used for landline service through the local phone company. The second choice, SafeLink, is NOT a subsidy. It is NOT being paid for with taxes! Why is this so hard for people to understand? You obviously have internet people...use it. Learn something today!
~Amanda

Anonymous said...

I'm so surprised at how ignorant some of the post here have been! These are NOT Obama-phones, they are NOT 'welfare' phones, and...they are NOT, NOT, NOT paid for by taxpayers! http://factcheck.org/2009/10/the-obama-phone/ The very same program that has helped put a low cost cell phone in the hands of many that need them, has been around since 1984! Now, when a person qualifies for the FCC "LifeLine" program they have a choice. The first choice IS a subsidy...it is used for landline service through the local phone company. The second choice, SafeLink, is NOT a subsidy. It is NOT being paid for with taxes! Why is this so hard for people to understand? You obviously have internet people...use it. Learn something today!
~Amanda

Aaron said...

Who pays for the phones Amanda? If the tax payers do not pay for it who does?

"The first choice IS a subsidy...it is used for landline service through the local phone company"

SafeLink gets money from the Universal Service Fund, which everyone who PAYS for a phone pays a portion of their bill into the fund.

The money does not just appear. While it may not be paid for with "taxes", it is paid for by people like me who work hard and are taxed out the butt... and they didn't want to call it another tax, so they call it a surcharge (another fancy word for tax, but it means the same thing, a fee I have to pay).

Anonymous said...

Wait... how long have cell phones been around?? How on earth did the homeless and low income families ever survive before 1999???

Thank GOD we're giving them all cell phones or they might perish or actually have to walk into an establishment to inquire about a job!

Community Voice Mail National Office said...

The #1 reason people use our service (Community Voice Mail) is to find a job, and from conversations with our clients who also own a mobile phone, I believe this is the main reason they have one. Walking into an establishment isn't the best way to get a job (most employers don't hire that way); you need a reliable phone number you can put on an application.

There are less than a million payphones in the U.S., down from 1.2 million just a couple years ago. They're getting harder to find in every city. While most of our clients use phones at social service agencies or other locations, having a mobile phone means you can respond quickly to opportunities (jobs, housing, etc.) that come your way.

Community Voice Mail and cell phones are not a "necessity" in the same way that food, water and shelter are, but they can make a tough situation a little less dire, and we know from experience that these tools can help bring people out of poverty. Having a way to reach people and to be reached remains a hugely important aspect of participating in society.

Steve

Anonymous said...

I think everyone who is complaining about SafeLink are just jealous that they can't get one themselves!!

Anonymous said...

Cell phones are not a question a luxury item. while the need for telecommunications can be a "lifesaver" for some, I don't see why it should be migrated to cell phones. I, along with many other cell phone users, pay into this fund and feel compelled to leave a comment as I came across this website.

Having been in the wireless industry for over 13 years, I have seen government assistance beneficiaries trying to abuse their benefits way too often. Should this be in the category of survival items such as food stamps? What was wrong with subsiding just landline phones? Do we need to add "luxuries"?

Community Voice Mail National Office said...

Nothing wrong with subsidizing landlines through the Universal Service Fund, and in fact, that's still where the majority of Lifeline funds are spent. Landlines require a residence, however, and if you're truly homeless or don't have a stable living situation, you can't access the Lifeline benefit even if you otherwise qualify. Currently, you have to list a physical mailing address to get a Lifeline phone through Safelink or Assurance, but Safelink has asked the FCC to review this policy so Lifeline mobile phones can also be provided to eligible people who don't have an address.

Beyond this, mobile phones are much more valuable to a population that moves around a lot but still can benefit from telecommunications (again, the #1 reason Community Voice Mail clients use our system is to find a job). Lifeline landlines also tend to cost more, as there is an installation charge that is also subsidized.

The world is going mobile. That's where all the investment is, and it just makes sense to provide this to Lifeline customers.

Anonymous said...

How is it that the anonymous person that has an unemployed husband and on food stamps uses the government for a free cell phone, but apparently can pay for a computer and internet access????

Community Voice Mail National Office said...

If she's like most of our clients (low-income or homeless people all across the country), it's likely that she goes to the public library to use a computer, or uses one at a social service agency.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind helping the disabled. But it makes me mad to think that I am paying for the lazy S.O.B. that takes all and yet does nothing to help himself or contribute to society. They should lose all help and let the people that work keep their money to support their own family,

Anonymous said...

Guess what? you don't need the federal government to pay for your monthly minutes to make an emergency phone call!! EVERY cell phone, whether it has a subscription or not is capable of making a 911 call. and you don't to be given a new phone to do it. I would gladly donate my "old" phone, that I worked a job to pay for, to those in actual NEED if safelink and it's clones were cancelled.

Anonymous said...

My 22 yr old daughter in Oregon and gets food subsidies and is now trying to get this phone service. She has a part time job and minimum wage so I guess she qualifies. But she also has another job under the table making a very very good income. She belives she is entitled to all these freebies and even laughs about it. I know there are people that need help! I'm just upset that many people like my daughter are out there.

Anonymous said...

This safelink program is a joke. Yet one more example of government making the decision that I'm responsible to pay for something that others aren't. The argument of needing these phones for emergency contact is ridiculous. Not sure i know somebody that converses with emergency services for 68 minutes a month. This country has operated for over 200 years with no cell phones. I don't see my responsibility to pay for others to access it now. Maybe my cable company should be mandated to tax me so some low income folks can receive HD channels. You know... It's a safety thing.

Conservative in Wisconsin.

Betsy said...

The point is that it is not a 'right' or an entitlement to be able to carry a cell phone! If this is so important, then spend the money you make on welfare on a phone. People's choices are 99% of the reason they are in the position of being 'low income' and needing the gov't to provide for them...and the 'government' means other people in the U.S. who have their money taken away from them and redistributed to people who are considered (I guess) incapable of buying their own cell phones. Just saw the commercial and it includes texting! Great..now they can sit in line for their food stamps and welfare checks and text their buddies so they don't get bored. Oh wait...I guess the taxpayer pays postage so they get their entitlements mailed to their front doors.

lauracrltn said...

The government issued phone to use with safelink wireless service is a very cheap one which is fine just saying. If they are using an expensive phone then that was purchased another way.