CLEVELAND - If you qualify for government assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps or public housing, odds are you qualify for a free cell phone.
The program is paid for through the Universal Service Fund, created by the FCC about 15 years ago, and is intended to give communities across the country affordable telecommunication services.
The nationwide fund supports schools, libraries, rural health care facilities and the creation of new communication infrastructure, like broadband nternet. It also funds free cell phones and 250 free minutes for anyone approved. And if you have a cell phone, you're footing the bill. Just check your statement.
According to the FCC Ohio pumped nearly $260 million dollars into the fund last year. The federal government distributed $63 million into schools and libraries.
Of that, $42 million went for rural healthcare, $34 million went into high cost support for projects and $37 million into the free cell phone program called Lifeline .
The federal pay back left a $134 million deficit, meaning the money went to other states to fund their needs and free cell phones for residents.
People who use the phone in Cleveland said the service has helped them find work and stay safe.
"If you're out and something happens, you're going to have to have something right on you to call somebody," said one woman interviewed outside of a downtown shelter.
But other people we talked to were abusing the program. "Free minutes. It's free," said another man in line for a free lunch at a local shelter. "My mom and my step dad live out in Parma Heights. They have good jobs. They have a big beautiful house. She doesn't need to have one, but it's cheap for her. Everyone can use a little help right now."