Call for help: Low-income Mainers scrambling after being dropped from discount phone service

After filling out an eligibility survey incorrectly, not getting the survey or ignoring it, low-income Mainers are being bounced from a federal discount phone service program — and being back-billed for past charges.

Call for help

Those looking for help to get back on the Lifeline discount phone service program can call the Public Advocate's Office at 287-2445.

Wayne Jortner, senior counsel at the Maine Public Advocate's Office, has helped a dozen people in the past two months get back on the Lifeline program.

"Some of them are quite upset because they're getting bills that are way more than they can afford," Jortner said Friday. "It's quite distressing, especially for those that rely on a landline phone and don't have any alternatives."

The Federal Communications Commission underwrites the discount and last year required recertification for the first time after concerns about household double-dipping, Public Advocate Richard Davies said.

Prior to that, people qualified for Lifeline, which cuts the cost of basic phone service roughly in half, by being enrolled in a low-income program such as food stamps.

"There really was not enough advance warning," Davies said. "It caught a lot of people by surprise."

Most of the calls to his office have come from FairPoint Communications customers. Some thought the new application was junk mail. Some accidentally left a space blank; others made minor mistakes.

"There wasn't any requirement that the company tell the applicant the reason why they had not been recertified," Davies said. "In almost every case that our folks have worked on, we've been able to get them to reverse that decision, put people back on."

A FairPoint spokeswoman said the company sent new applications to 47,000 Lifeline customers to comply with the FCC rules. She didn't know the number that had been dropped or had been dropped and then returned to the program.

"(When people still qualify), the fix is pretty fast," Jortner said. "It's just not everybody knows to come to my office."

He's heard that Maine's Area Agencies on Aging have logged between 150 and 200 complaints from abruptly dropped seniors.

One Lewiston man who declined to give his name said he'd been on the Lifeline program for years. Last month, his phone bill jumped from $7 to $24, with an additional $50 charge to recapture the discount from the past three months.

When he called FairPoint, he was told he didn't return a form last fall. He didn't remember receiving one. Neither did his sister. They were both dropped from Lifeline.

"We live month to month on a little, tiny Social Security check," he said. "For people that qualify, it means we're poor. We can't afford to be back-billed."

kskelton@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Kim Berry's picture

NOTIFICATIONS NOT SENT

No notifications were sent to customers who's applications were incomplete or not correct or any other reason. They never sent the a notice telling us that we were not accepted in the program and why and how many days we had to re apply.
NOTHING
NOTHING
ok? I called and asked for supervisor. they could not find any record of an application denial letter being sent out. Or a correct application letter being sent out. I was billed according to being on the program. I had no way of knowing something was wrong, until they sent me 4 months worth of added charges almost 200 god damned dollars!

Since when does an agency place you in a program, bill you accordingly, then tell you exactly 3 months later, "oh, by the way, you were not supposed to be in the program (and we failed to notifiy in time), so will just bill your arse for the msitake we made, here ya go! good luck with that sucker!

ya, not cool. People are hurting right now. I

am a full time college student, trying to get off welfare. I hate this. I am a responsible parent and student, trying to make a future for myself and my child. I do no appreciate the assumptions and hateful words being said on this forum.

find out a little bit more about the situaion, before you go running off at the mouth. Have a little compassion wont ya? sickening

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

Fairpoint Communications is a

Fairpoint Communications is a crooked company. They have a track record of improper and illegal business practices. The AG needs to launch an investigation and any and all Fairpoint employees involved in this "cleansing" need to be dealt with swiftly and severely. Speaking of 911, some of you might just need it when the uprising of the poor goes down and they're coming through your windows to rip out your heart and feed it to your dogs. Just some food for thought.

Dexter Voter's picture

It is

Is is a shame and terrible that all these poor people can't remember ever receiving the paperwork. But then again that is what they say. I believe they recieved paper work to justify a free program to them, and they just figuared I live in Maine they will provide for me as long as I sit and do nothing. This phone service for the poor should be given to them with all the numbers taken off their free phone except 911.
If the need it for anything else go to a pay phone.

Kim Berry's picture

Hey DEXTER !

OBVIOUSLY YOU WERE NOT RIPPED OFF AND SHAMMED?
Ya, it's ok, people who have no clue what it feels like to have empathy towards some one in need would say exactly what you have said. You are cruel!
Fairpoint FAILED to send out notifications to hundreds of people ok? Along with their 100 or so employee lay off, maybe they were concentrating on that instead.
show some compassion!

Dexter Voter's picture

Right

I have no Love for Fairpoint myself. But I know what it is like to be poor and I never recieved anything free from anyone nor did I expect to. I don't believe someone in need has to have a phone to call anyone they want while someone else pays for it. If you need a phone for emergencies fine, as long as it can only dial 911. Empathy for someone who thinks a phone is so important that they go out of their way to try to get free phone is not something I have or will ever have. Cruel I may be but I could live with out a phone and not care one bit, and believe everyone else does not need a phone.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

What a great idea.......

It's rare that a calculated plan to screw a significant number of customers who, in the eyes of the corporate board, aren't pulling their weight. "Brilliant", send out a very inconspicuous letter, knowing you have fulfilled the requirements to the government, yet very likely to be missed by the group of customers being targeted.
Now, without so much as a phone call, you can drop all this dead weight and concentrate on profits again.
I'll bet, the middle manager in accounting who developed this ingenuous plan has won a corner office at corporate. It's very infrequent that a company can engage in a plan to drop as many of their most needy customers as possible, without so much as a paragraph of coverage in the press.
Again I congratulate all the companies participating in this "cleansing" program, I am so glad we know how you stand in the war against the poor and disabled. the elderly who rely on this useless program. Now you can all return to the ultimate goal of 'PROFITS". After all, you only count if you can afford the privilege.

Kim Berry's picture

FRANK, THANK YOU

for your compassion. You are not far from the truth, but the welfare slammers are ready to put people down, and make assumptions and accusation arent they? Very cruel.

Unlike a normal company, people were on the Lifeline program, and being billed accordingly, then they recieved a BACK BILL stating that they were NOT in the program. never sent out a WARNING notice,never told anyone "hey, you failed to check off this question, application denied, 7 days to correct app." NOTHING AT ALL :'(

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