LOS ANGELES, CA, MAY 7, 2020—On Tuesday, the California State Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance approved Assembly Bill 3079 on a 9-0 vote to improve the California Lifeline program by making low-income phone services available to even more eligible participants.
The bill, authored by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), will make it easier for those who receive free wireless services to remain in the Lifeline program and allow even more eligible Californians to participate. The bill also requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to provide additional reporting on Lifeline participation, including zip-code level enrollment and renewal, to increase Lifeline enrollment from its current 5-year low.
Over 60% of those eligible for free wireless services through Lifeline have yet to participate, leaving more than 4.5 million residents disconnected from this vital resource. Moreover, only 30% of participants are able to annually re-certify their enrollment due to administrative hurdles, while most other states re-certify up to 90% of their Lifeline customers. In March, Truconnect and low-income advocates successfully petitioned the CPUC to waive the re-certification burden on participants during the coronavirus pandemic.
TruConnect, the only California-based Lifeline service provider, applauded the vote as a critical action to address the needs of vulnerable residents impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
"California cannot close the digital divide without addressing the millions of low-income residents who lack access to free mobile broadband services or, even worse, who pay for services they do not have to," said TruConnect Co-CEO Nathan Johnson. "We applaud Asssemblymember Garcia and the Committee on Communications and Conveyance for this necessary first step to expand California Lifeline and better connect our communities to educational, health, and financial resources during this extremely challenging time."
Last week, anti-poverty leaders including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, California Community Economic Development Association, California Reinvestment Coalition, Public Interest Law Project, Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero, and the East Bay Community Law Center wrote to Governor Gavin Newsom and state legislators proposing strategies to increase Lifeline enrollment to 90-100% participation from its current low of less than 40%.
The California Public Utilities Commission administers California Lifeline in order to provide affordable mobile phone services to eligible households through certified providers.
TruConnect provides California LifeLine service to more than 240,000 Californians most impacted by the coronavirus across the state. TruConnect is the state's only LifeLine carrier that provides participants with a free 4G/LTE smartphone and access to hotspots built on WiFi technology that enables broadband learning and telehealth. TruConnect phones are loaded with food security apps to access CalFresh, free lunch programs and foodbanks, with links to health resources and e-learning solutions for non-profit charities. Earlier in the month, all TruConnect customers received a text message with a link to apply for state unemployment benefits through their phone.
Unfortunately, the LifeLine has historically been underfunded and inadequately supported, with a 2019 California Legislative Analyst's Office report noting that "program enrollment increased significantly after adding wireless in 2014, but then leveled off in 2016 and has been declining in recent years." The report recommended a series of reforms, including "a statewide marketing and outreach plan to help improve overall program awareness among eligible households" that has not yet materialized.
Free mobile telephone and broadband service during the Shelter-In-Place order is available through TruConnect's website, www.truconnect.com. Applicants who meet low-income eligibility requirements will receive a free phone through the mail and be able to stay connected throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
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Founded in 2011, TruConnect has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing provider of Lifeline wireless telecommunications services, expanding into over 30 states in the past two years TruConnect strives to provide affordable & flexible technology solutions to low-income communities and budget-conscious consumers, helping to bring us closer to closing the digital divide. To learn more, visit us at www.truconnect.com .
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