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Homeless to get free cellphones in California

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 California's Public Utilities Commission is expanding a program that provides home phones to impoverished citizens to include mobile phones as well. (iStockphoto)Impoverished and homeless Californians will soon be able to get free cellphones thanks to the statewide expansion of an initiative called "Lifeline."

The federally funded program has been subsidizing home telephone service for low-income residents since 1985, but as communication technologies have evolved, so too have the needs of the program's recipients.

In an effort to provide them with a more modern and efficient way to communicate with friends, family and potential employers, the state's Public Utilities Commission is expanding the Lifeline program to include mobile phones as well.

Beginning on Monday, anyone who can prove that his or her annual income is less than $14, 702 will be eligible to receive a cell phone from one of two providers, along with a monthly service place that includes 250 talk minutes and 250 text messages.

"Everything will be different now," said program recipient Romonica Grayson to the San Francisco Chronicle this week. "Now I can finally be sure I will be able to get a hold of people to do what I need to do in a timely fashion."

The Chronicle reports that advocates for the state's homeless population have been pushing for this expansion for three years.

"Having a phone means being able to be called back quickly on job applications and to keep up on appointments for government assistance. Homeless people will now be able to confirm shelter openings without walking miles and potentially missing out on beds" writes The Chronicle's Kevin Fagan.

"Everyone in dire straits can now also stay in touch with family and friends. That may sound simple to those with means, but for those in crisis it can mean life or death."

FCC-subsidized cell-phone plans of this type do exist in other states, but there appears to be no Canadian equivalent as of yet.

In June, we asked readers if you think society should do more to get the homeless connected; 60 per cent responded "yes."

Do you agree? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below.

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