A 13-year-old federal program is offering financial assistance to individuals living below the poverty level, but few are taking advantage.
Mississippi Public Service Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley visited Columbus Thursday on his statewide tour to spread the word about the Lifeline/Linkup Telephone Assistance Program. The program, which pays $162 per year ($13.50 per month) of a household”s telephone bill, is being utilized by approximately 20 percent of eligible households.
To qualify, a household”s total income must be at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level or an individual must qualify for programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance or have children participating in the National Free School Lunch Program.
A full description of qualifications is available on the Mississippi Public Service website at psc.state.ms.us. Applications can also be found on the website or requested by calling 1-800-356-6428.
“To all of us who are blessed to be able to pay our bills, $13 doesn”t sound like a lot of money. To a senior citizen drawing $800 a month, that”s a bag of groceries. That”s some gas in the car. And that”s money that otherwise would not be spent in the economy,” said Presley.
Qualifying individuals will have the money taken directly off of their phone bills. The discount can apply to cellular phones or land lines and may lead to a larger discount depending on the structure of the individual phone bill.
The Federal Communications Commission funds the Lifeline program through funds added to all consumers” phone bills. Those funds are then distributed to states to facilitate the program.
Presley and the utilities commission plan to approach faith-based organizations and assistance services such as food pantries to reach those individuals most likely to qualify for the Lifeline program. He sees it as an economic opportunity for the state with the highest percentage of low income individuals and families.
“If 1,000 people sign up in Columbus, that”s $13,500 that can be spent on something else per month and $162,000 we”ve freed up per year,” said Presley.
Despite being launched in 1997, Lifeline has been slow to catch on.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.