To mark “Lifeline Awareness Week,” policymakers joined consumer and civil rights advocates to host a series of events underscoring the importance of this vital program to millions of Americans.
Lifeline provides a modest subsidy to low-income consumers to pay for basic telephone service. Initiated during the Reagan administration, President George W. Bush expanded Lifeline to cover wireless service in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Following a national grassroots call hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The New America Foundation, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the National Consumer Law Center, the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc., and the Media Action Grassroots Network, participants released these statements:
Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D, CA-6):
“The Lifeline program ensures that low-income Americans have access to the critical connections and security that phone service provides. Whether for staying in touch with family, being accessible to an employer, or contacting a local hospital or the police, Lifeline is essential for the millions of Americans enrolled in the program. In today’s global economy, the Internet is as much a lifeline as the telephone once was. That is why I have introduced legislation, the Broadband Adoption Act, to responsibly expand Lifeline for broadband and help close our nation’s digital divide once and for all.”
Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval, California Public Utilities Commission:
“The State of California works with the Federal Communications Commission and our sister states to administer Lifeline in a fiscally responsible and accountable manner. California leads the nation through the state's third-party verification system and computer database that speeds confirmation of Lifeline eligibility before service is provided. The California Public Utilities Commission joins our colleagues in the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, in supporting Lifeline, a vital service that strengthens our economy and improves public safety.”
Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“We must set the record straight about Lifeline; it is a hand up, not a hand out. We know that people from every part of the country, including rural residents, people of color and women, use Lifeline to stay in touch with their children, call 9-1-1, stay connected during disasters, care for their medical needs, and apply for jobs. By harnessing the innovation of the private sector, the Lifeline program has – with minimal investment – been extremely successful at ensuring access to phone service for those who need it most. Lifeline must be protected and strengthened, not subjected to crude prejudices and extreme rhetoric, so it can continue to be the hand up so many Americans need in today’s economy.”
Jessica Gonzalez, vice president policy and legal affairs, National Hispanic Media Coalition:
“I used the Lifeline program for a brief period of time, many years ago, after I was laid off from my teaching job. With my Lifeline connection, I was able to look for a new job and apply to law school. Now, I am an attorney. Although I've been reluctant to talk about this period in my life, as I'm sure many who have endured similar circumstances are, I've realized that stories like mine have not been told. The truth is, the Lifeline program has been incredibly successful and must not only be preserved but expanded to embrace how people need to communicate today."
Edyael Casaperalta, program and research associate, Center for Rural Strategies:
"Lifeline is essential to the success of our country because it ensures that even the most unserved areas are safe, able to communicate, and included. In rural and Tribal communities where jobs are scarce and poverty is high, Lifeline is literally a lifeline for residents."
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org .