WASHINGTON – As part of her efforts to crack down on systemic problems in the federally-subsidized Lifeline program, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill has revealed that between 2014 and October 2017, 47,942 deceased individuals were enrolled in the program. McCaskill received the information from the Inspector General of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency that administers the program. McCaskill demanded updates on what the FCC is doing improve its oversight of the program and ensure that taxpayer dollars are not going to Lifeline provider companies profiting from accounts for deceased individuals.
“Getting everyone on the same side of an issue can be tough in politics, but I’m confident we can all join hands in not wanting to provide phone subsidies to tens of thousands of dead people,” said McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor. “The government has done a terrible job preventing waste and fraud of taxpayer money in this program, and I’m not going to let up until commonsense safeguards are implemented.”
The Lifeline program is run by the FCC and provides low-income households with discounts on telephone and broadband service. McCaskill first urged the FCC to provide stronger oversight of the program in 2011, and she has continually revealed extensive problems with the program and pushed for reforms. Last year, a McCaskill-requested report detailed numerous problems and vulnerabilities ranging from an inability to verify the eligibility of over one-third of participants, to providing Lifeline benefits to 5,400 fictitious or deceased individuals, to auditing less than one-half of one percent of the telecommunication providers responsible for providing service.
In a letter to the FCC, McCaskill revealed that the agency’s Inspector General informed her that the number of deceased individuals who were enrolled in the program is actually much higher: 47,492 deceased people were enrolled in the program between 2014 and October 2017, meaning that the Lifeline provider companies likely received government funds to pay for potentially fraudulent accounts.
McCaskill discussed in her letter the FCC’s commitment to her to launch an independent eligibility verification system for Lifeline subscribers, instead of relying on the companies that profit from the program to check if applicants are eligible—or even alive. “As I have noted previously, this arrangement represents a structural flaw as it increases the risk of fraud and abuse,” McCaskill wrote. While the verifier was supposed to launch in 2017, the FCC postponed the launch due to information security concerns. The FCC announced the launch would take place in early 2018, but that has not yet occurred.
McCaskill requested details on how much the government has paid to companies for deceased subscriber accounts, what actions have been taken to penalize these companies, and the current status of launching the independent verifier.
Read McCaskill’s letter to the FCC HERE.