Monday, June 13, 2016

Lifeline Telephone and Cell Phone Help Provides $9.8 M to Help 77,000 Low Income Oregon Households; Broadband Qualifies In December.

The FCC has adopted a new rule HERE on the eligibility and services that qualify for Lifeline telecommunication related payments for low income families with incomes below 135% of poverty or who participate in specific federal programs like food stamps and HUD Section 8/public housing.  The effective date is December 2016.  Lifeline amounts in Oregon are $9.25 monthly from the federal government and $3.50 from the state. 

I contacted Oregon's very cooperative Lifeline Office and got some information about how many households participate in the state and federal Lifeline programs and did some calculations of the funding levels on a monthly and annual basis.  

The table I created is pasted below:

Some observations and notes:

  1. Total Lifeline participation in Oregon is 77,103 households. $9.8 million in annual funding was provided to help pay land line or cell phone bills for low income households.  
  2. Under the new FCC rules the Lifeline program will also be able to be used for broadband access, but note there is only ONE payment available per household. (Link HERE provides more information about phasing in of new FCC rules).
  3. HUD has a ConnectHome initiative to pilot expansion of broadband access for assisted housing tenants. 
  4. The vast majority of households using Lifeline in Oregon get categorical eligibility through SNAP (the food stamp program)--85%. With many households potentially losing SNAP eligibility and with the Lifeline program requiring annual applications I wonder if there will be a drop off of those Lifeline households who previously used SNAP eligibility to also claim Lifeline benefits. 
  5. There were about 403,000 SNAP households in Oregon in May of 2016 so the % of SNAP households who received Lifeline benefits directly because of SNAP categorical eligibility was about 19%. There appears to be a large number of SNAP households who could claim Lifeline benefits who are not claiming them, either through the categorial SNAP eligibility or by other means. If all SNAP HH's claimed Lifeline benefits in the same mix of federal and state benefits as the existing Lifeline HH's I estimate that the annual Lifeline total $ in Oregon would climb to more than $50 million. 
  6. Less than 1% of households receiving Lifeline benefits claim them through use of categorical Public Housing/Section 8 eligibility. With more than 50,000 Oregon households receiving HUD rental assistance the 78 households claiming eligibility via this route is very, very low-less than 2 out of every 1,000 eligible households. Checking for and applying for Lifeline participation during the initial eligibility determination for public housing/section 8 applicants and at income recertification would seem like a low cost way of insuring that assisted housing tenants are participating in this benefit program. 

Originally created and posted on the Oregon Housing Blog.

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