Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Phone bills too high?

Although phone bills have risen sharply in recent years, only one in nine eligible Florida households takes advantage of the discounts provided through the federal Lifeline Assistance Program.

The national participation rate was about 19% in 2005.

People using Medicaid, food stamps, Federal Housing Assistance and the school lunch program may qualify, but they need to apply and prove eligibility. Households that are just above the official poverty level -- for example, a household of four people making a maximum of $26,123 -- are eligible.

Telephone companies in Florida grant up to a $13.50 monthly credit to eligible households with traditional telephone service via wire.

Florida officials said lack of awareness of the program and distrust of government programs by many poor residents are some of the barriers to enrollment. The state is “considering an automatic system that would enroll people after they get government assistance, as is currently done in other states,” a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission said.

Phone-bill increases have added to escalating costs for gasoline, insurance and homes. Three years ago, phone companies passed on the biggest phone rate increase in Florida history, and consumers are again facing a possible 90% increase in basic phone service by next year.

Application forms and information in English, Spanish and Creole are available here.

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