As I was driving down Greenmount Avenue several weeks ago, I passed a tent with a large sign reading “Free Cell Phones.” It was a hot day, and over 100 people were lined up to see what this was about. I saw the name of the company promoting the phones and verified that it is one of the providers authorized to administer the Lifeline program. Lifeline provides free cell phones to people who meet certain income levels (generally less than 130% of the federal poverty level). Eligible clients receive a cell phone, 100 anytime minutes, and 100 text messages each month (unused minutes and texts roll over).
You might wonder why the government is offering free cell phone service. For very low-income people, this phone can be a means to stay connected with social service providers and potential employers. Health care providers can confirm appointments, drug treatment counselors can check in, and teachers can get in touch with parents.
I had a thought. If there were people standing in that line who were not receiving benefits and learned that they qualified for Lifeline, they could also qualify for other benefits such as food stamps. The Foundation has supported the work of Seedco to manage Earn Benefits in Baltimore, which assists community-based organizations to screen clients for benefits and submit applications. An Earn Benefits screener could collaborate with the cell phone provider by getting consumers enrolled into other benefit programs. That’s a way to hit two birds with one stone!