Obama Phone Program: Cut the Excesses, But Keep the Program


A conservative activist by the name of James O’Keefe has released a video he filmed which uncovers how people can easily abuse the so-called “Obama phone” program, using the phones they obtain to sell to pay bills, go shopping, or trade for drug money. 

While these abuses should not be occurring, the disappointing truth about people is that when they receive a favor or are given a privilege, there will always be some who take advantage of the system. Therefore, perhaps the program should not stop but should be modified in order to not penalize those who use the phones as they were intended to be used while ensuring that funds are not wasted by those who abuse the system.

The "Obama phone" is part of a project run by the Federal Communications Commission's Lifelineprogram, which makes landline and cell phones available to Americans who meet certain low-income requirements. The program, though started by Ronald Reagan and expanded to include cell-phone service by George W. Bush, is most often attributed to President Obama and is once more coming under fire. If an individual interested in obtaining an “Obama phone” meets the requirements, he or she can then take one and do virtually anything he or she wishes with it. 

In one exchange with an employee distributing free phones at a Stand Up Wireless location in Philadelphia, an actor sent in by O’Keefe asked if he could do anything with the phone, a question to which the answer was affirmative. The actor then went on to state that he was going to use the phone to get money for heroine. The employee replied, "Hey, I don't judge."

Similarly, another employee at a TerraCom Wireless location in Minnesota was approached by an O'Keefe-hired actress who inquired if she could sell her phone. The employee explained that she was allowed to do what she wants., and added, "Unfortunately there are people on drugs. They get this phone, and they go get $40...”

The actress explained that she was not on drugs but rather, was looking to buy an “awesome pair of shoes.” The employee’s response? A good laugh. 

The way these employees are handing out phones to people they know are abusing the system is shameful, though unsurprising. They may feel as if their enabling actions are not affecting society at large, but in truth, they are adding more financial burden onto the American public by encouraging the misuse of tax money.

With the program costing around $2.2 billion today, "Obama phones" inarguably come at a steep price. Employees distributing these phones to people who they know are abusing the program must stop being enablers and learn how to say no. However, the fact is that even if these employees stopped giving phones to people who blatantly stated they were not going to use them for their intended purpose, not everyone would outright declare that they intend on abusing the system. 

Unfortunately, there is no surefire method by which one can determine who will abide by the rules once they receive their free cell phones. However, taxpayer money can be saved by holding employees distributing free cell phones accountable for enforcing the rules and setting more strict requirements for applicants who wish to obtain their free phone. 

America’s welfare program may be imperfect but it does provide many economically suffering U.S. citizens a chance to live somewhat more comfortably despite their financial limitations. While the extent to which the phone program has been used has gotten out of hand, the program overall helps low-income citizens stay connected and should be modified rather than eliminated.