People who lack a Social Security number will again be able to apply for low-cost California Lifeline phone service, according to a state Public Utilities Commission decision.
This comes as part of a decision by the commission Thursday to expand its California LifeLine program to include wireless service. The state LifeLine program, which provides discounted telephone service to qualifying low-income households, was until now available only to land line customers. Mobile phone users have had access to discounted services, but through a federal program.
The CPUC decision would let low-income customers who lack a Social Security number apply for both mobile and land-line California LifeLine service. From a CPUC news release:
The LifeLine decision initiates a process to restore California LifeLine accessibility to eligible low income Californians who do not have a Social Security Number (SSN) due to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) requirement that applicants for federal Lifeline provide the last four digits of their SSN.
Until the beginning of last year, land line customers had been able to apply for California LifeLine without a Social Security number, said Ana Montes, an organizer with the San Francisco-based utility reform group TURN. But the state tightened its rules along with the federal government to require the last four digits of applicants' social security numbers.
"What that in fact did is really impact a lot of people who qualified for the program, either because they didn't have a social, or because they refused to give a social because they were concerned about ID theft and privacy," Montes said.
People were essentially disqualified, she said, with new applicants barred from applying and others unable to reapply. Montes isn't sure how many people were affected.
But it's estimated that as many as 2.6 million unauthorized immigrants live in California, about 7 percent of the state's population.
The decision authorizes the CPUC to request a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission of the Social Security number requirement, "in light of California’s strong LifeLine program management rules and computer database that deters fraud and catches duplicate claims before LifeLine service is authorized."
The California LifeLine program is funded by telephone customers, who pay into it when they buy services.