Mobile Recharge and Social Justice

June 14, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

The poor and homeless are often targeted by people who feel that no one should get a handout.  What the critics don’t realize is that a helping hand can mean that someone can improve their life and step off the government welfare rolls.


Several news organizations, including Fox News, have continued to work against the Reagan-era phone service for low-income Americans. Calling the devices “Obamaphones,” news segments have suggested the program is filled with runaway costs.


Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler issued a proposal to amend and modernize the Lifeline program. Currently, the program makes both landline and cellular phone services available to low-income Americans. Wheeler’s people will expand the user-funded program to include internet services.


Opponents of the Lifeline Service claim that the service system has radically expanded during President Obama’s administration. 


Charles Payne, a Fox News Business host, said the Lifeline program was tantamount to “further enslavement of the poor.”


Payne also complained about the expansion of Internet services, saying, “the people who are on the lower levels of the economic rung are having their nest feathered a little bit more.”


Despite what the news organization is saying, expanding broadband access to low-income Americans is a giant and important step toward alleviating poverty. 


The New York Times said that the proposed change represents the “strongest recognition yet” from the FCC that “high-speed Internet access is as essential to economic well-being as good transportation and phone service.


According to Pew research, low-income communities are far behind the rest of the nation in broadband access.  Just over, 50 percent of adults with an annual income of less than $30,000 have Internet at home, likened to 70 percent of all adults.


Thirty-eight states participate in the Lifeline program. Living in these states and having an income at, or below, 135 percent of the poverty mark will qualify an individual for certain benefits programs such as Medicaid and TANF as well as the free cell phone.


The majority of the people who receive them live in urban areas so they can contact the hospital when they’re sick or receive calls if there’s a problem with a child at school.


The homeless also make up a percentage of recipients although no one has accurate figures on the number of phones are used by homeless. A homeless person needs a phone to follow up on job applications, stay in touch with family and friends and many other uses which are overlooked by critics of the Lifeline program.


Lifeline isn’t funded by tax revenues. A pool of money, funded by telecommunications providers, and called the Universal Service Fund underwrites the cost of each phone and 250 minutes per month for each user. The telecommunications providers pass the cost on to the customers with a Universal Service fee.


Some developers have created apps that may provide a mobile recharge depending on the type of phone. With the capability of being able to get free minutes, the user can extend the basic time-block that is issued automatically each month. Apps providing this service, as of this writing, include POKKT, Amulyam, and others.


It’s sad that conservatives who try to point to the “Obamaphones” as a case of a liberal president gone crazy with handouts are just sad and ignorant.


Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist covering social justice issues globally. Contact him today at and follow him on Twitter.