Is it the new 75-cents per month phone tax on most of us, or the free cellphones for the poor that has Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia upset?
Vos is objecting to a partnership between the TracPhone Wireless Company and the federal government that offers a cell phone plan with texting, call waiting, voicemail, and rollover minutes, with the first 60 minutes per month free, "and all for the price of zero dollars." Do you qualify? As long as you use Badger Care, Food Stamps, participate in the W-2 program or your income is within 35 percent of the federal poverty level, you do."
“You have to ask about priorities,” said Vos, “when the government is paying for free cell phones but leaving people hanging on unemployment, on job training, and on health care. I must have missed the part where we discussed why texting is a higher priority than worker training and jobs.”
Vos notes that the 5 million Wisconsinites who don’t qualify for the free phone are instead paying a new 75-cent per month phone tax, which started Thursday, and a 56-cent increase in the government fee (Universal Service Fund) that pays for a similar program for low-income phone service here in Wisconsin. He blames Democrats, saying that earlier this year, Gov. Doyle and the Democrats expanded the Universal Service Fee to cell phones for the first time.
"Just because the Democrats couldn’t help themselves from raising your cell phone taxes,” Vos said, “doesn’t mean the government should be in the business of handing out free cell phones.”
The federal government’s low-income phone program, called Lifeline, has been in place since 1984. In Wisconsin, the state Universal Service Fund covers the portion of basic telephone service charges exceeding $15 per month for low-income individuals. According to the state’s Public Service Commission, more than 547,000 Wisconsinites are eligible for the TracPhone free cell phone program – more than 31,000 in the Racine/Kenosha area alone. The total cost of the free cell phone program could be as much as $5.4 million.
“Adding a hint of irony,” Vos said, “is that one of the qualifiers for getting a free phone is participation in the ‘Wisconsin Works’ program. W2 was created to end Welfare freebies and provide a hand up, not a handout – looks like the Democrats are taking us right back to the days of something for nothing.”