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Free cell phones for those in need

Tamika Caldwell went inside M&L Mini Stop and walked away with a free cell phone.

She was able to take advantage of a federal program that enables people to receive a pre-paid wireless service plan through cell provider Access Wireless.

Access Wireless representatives began assisting eligible people earlier this week. Representatives will be on hand at the store, located at 1130 N. Main St., from noon-5 p.m. through Dec. 20.

Contrary to what some may believe, the Lifeline Program did not originate with President Barack Obama. The program began in 1985 and allows someone who receives public assistance to get a discounted phone plan or free wireless minutes. The program is managed by the Federal Communications Commission.

The program was initially enacted by Congress during the Reagan administration. In 2005, the FCC expanded the program from landlines to include low-cost prepaid wireless programs, said Mark Wigfield, a Federal Communications Commission spokesman.

The program is evenly divided, with half of the people using wireless and the other half landlines, he said.

“All they do is provide a $9.25 a month discount on phone service. Some wireless providers have chosen to offer the service at a price that the subsidy pretty much covers, which makes it free for the consumer,” Wigfield said.

Caldwell thought the program was good because “everybody can’t afford a cell.”

Only one phone is allowed per household, which is any person or group of people who live together at the same address and share income and expenses. No person can have a phone through another cell provider. The other cell providers offering the program are Safelink, Assurance and Reachout Wireless.

People who are eligible must receive one of the following services and provide proof: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program (NSLP), or Federal Public Housing Assistance Section 8.

Eligibility will be determined immediately, Access Wireless representative Hanah Hong said.

All you have to do is fill out a form, and if you qualify, you get to walk away with a cell phone.

Hong said if they’ve never participated in the program before, most people likely will be eligible.

A friend told Rodney Peguese about the phones so he stopped to inquire.

“That’s pretty good to me. I hope I get one. I do need one,” Peguese said while waiting in line.

He did qualify and left with a phone.

Everett Myers said he receives disability benefits and could use a phone.

“You never know when a break-in or something will happen,” he said.

Sandra Jackson brought her brother-in-law, James Jackson, and daughter, Tyauna Jones, to apply for the program.

“I think this is a good program, especially for people with disabilities.

“It provides means of being able to communicate,” she said.

Her oldest daughter saw the sign in front of the store and told Sandra about it.

She said more people need to take advantage of this program.

“There’s a lot of disabled people that don’t know about it,” she said.

Each year the customer has to re-certify their Lifeline service. If the customer does not respond by the deadline, the discount will be eliminated.

For more information about the Lifeline Program, visit www.fcc.gov/lifeline

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