Lifeline phone service rules outlined

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: Before changing to a cellphone, as you suggested to Maureen (Oct. 18), one might want to check out as to whether or not Lifeline connects to a cellphone. — No Name via email

ANSWER: Lifeline is a program, not a service. You don’t really connect to it. But it does pay for limited cell service.

The following information is online at www.fcc.gov/lifeline. Sun Spots hopes it will help her many readers without computers.

“Since 1985, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services. In 2005, Lifeline discounts were made available to qualifying low-income consumers on prepaid wireless service plans in addition to traditional landline service. Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund.

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“The Lifeline program is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands. Consumers with proper proof of eligibility may be qualified to enroll.

“To participate in the program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in one of the following assistance programs:

• Medicaid

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

• Supplemental Security Income

• Federal Public House Assistance

• Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

• Temporary Assistance to Needy Families

• National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program

• Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance

• Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

• Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

• Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met)

• State assistance programs (if applicable)

“Federal rules prohibit eligible low-income consumers from receiving more than one Lifeline discount per household. An eligible consumer may receive a discount on either a wireline or wireless service, but not both. A consumer whose household currently is receiving more than one Lifeline service must select a single Lifeline provider and contact the other provider to de-enroll from their program. Consumers violating this rule may also be subject to criminal and/or civil penalties.

“The Lifeline program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. USAC is responsible for data collection and maintenance, support calculation, and disbursement for the low-income program. USAC’s website provides information regarding administrative aspects of the low-income program, as well as program requirements.

“On Jan. 31, 2012, the commission adopted comprehensive reform and modernization of the Lifeline program. As a universal service program that fulfills Congress’s mandate to ensure the availability of communications to all Americans, Lifeline for the past 25 years has helped tens of millions of low-income Americans afford basic phone service. … [T]he percentage of low-income households with phone service has increased from 80 percent in 1985, when Lifeline began, to nearly 92 percent last year.”

TO C.S. IN EAST DIXFIELD: You wrote to Sun Spots that you have a problem with your phone and haven’t been able to get help from FairPoint Communications. However, you didn’t say what the problem was, just that you can’t get through to customer service and haven’t been able to for two weeks.

Sun Spots doubts if many people can get through. The union employees at FairPoint have been on strike since the middle of October, so management and substitute employees are trying to run the business. Obviously they are extremely short-handed.

Customers who can wait until the strike is settled will have much better luck getting through. Meanwhile, Sun Spots has shared your phone number with the media contact at FairPoint to see if he can follow up and help you sooner.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: On Saturday, Nov. 1, there will be a food drive between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Food City grocery store on Route 4 in Turner for the Turner Food Pantry.

Any cans or boxes of food will be welcomed. We will also collect new toys, hats and mittens for Project Holiday to benefit Turner children from toddlers to teens. 

Thank you, Sun Spots, for helping local nonprofit activities. — Martha Hodgkins, Turner

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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