FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 20, 2004

Toll Free Number

 800-684-6560

 (PA only)

CONTACT: Susan Henry, Consumer Liaison; e-mail: shenry@paoca.org

HARRISBURG B Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky today urged members of the General Assembly to support Representative Mike Veon’s proposed legislation to expand enrollment of Pennsylvania telephone consumers in the federal Lifeline program.

Under the federal Lifeline program, telephone consumers who participate in certain public assistance programs are entitled to receive basic telephone service discounts of about eight dollars per month – or nearly $100 per year – from the federal Universal Service Fund.  Unfortunately, only about 10% of the Pennsylvania households who are entitled to receive this federally funded discount are receiving it.

“House Bill 2571, which has been introduced by Representative Veon and 45 other legislators, would authorize automatic enrollment in the Lifeline program of those Pennsylvania consumers who already have applied for and been found to be eligible for other qualifying assistance programs,” Mr. Popowsky said.  “Without this legislation, Pennsylvania will continue to leave millions of dollars of available federal funding on the table that could be used to help make telephone service more affordable for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania households.”

Mr. Popowsky noted that funding for the Federal Universal Service Fund comes from a surcharge on the interstate portion of all American consumers’ telephone bills.  In 2001, the last year for which such information was published, Pennsylvania consumers paid $24 million into this portion of the Federal Universal Service Fund, but, because of our low Lifeline enrollment, Pennsylvania consumers received only $6 million in Lifeline benefits.  “For every dollar that Pennsylvania sent to Washington for this national fund in 2001, Pennsylvania received just a quarter in return,” Mr. Popowsky said.  “We should do better than that.”

House Bill 2571 would also remove current restrictions on the ability of Lifeline discount recipients to subscribe to other optional services.  This is especially important for customers with disabilities, for whom certain optional services have become more of a necessity than a mere convenience, Popowsky said.

Mr. Popowsky expressed his support for Representative Veon’s legislation at a Capitol Rotunda press conference that was also attended by a number of other consumer representatives, including the AARP, which successfully advocated the implementation of automatic Lifeline enrollment in the State of New Jersey.

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