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Government & Politics

Free Cell Phone Service Coming for Poor Californians

Licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user "edans" / http://www.flickr.com/photos/edans/263107082/

As early as next year, 1.5 million Californians could be eligible for 250 free cell phone minutes, and 250 free text messages a month. Assurance Wireless, an arm of mobile giant Sprint, will provide the service through the federally-funded Lifeline program. 

That program is currently limited to land lines in California. Assurance Wireless spokesman Jack Pflanz says the addition of cell phone service has made a huge difference to people in 36 other states where it’s been adopted.

“Unemployment is so very high in this country right now and jobs are far and few between, you’ve got to react really quickly to an offer for an interview or an offer for a  job before they move on to the next person,” says Pflanz

Pflanz says cell phones also make it easier for people to stay in touch with schools, doctors, and social service providers. 

Yolanda Arias with Legal Aid Foundation Los Angeles says the free cellular service will be especially helpful for the homeless.   In LA County, that’s more than 78,000 people.

“The cell phones will be so useful for homeless people who are waiting to hear about shelter spaces, people on aid who are homeless and don’t have access to mail.  They can get their notices for appointments and notices of problems with their benefits,” says Arias.

Once a customer uses up the free allotments, they must wait for the service to reset the next month, or pre-pay to add more minutes or more texts. Assurance Wireless has a few more details to provide to California’s Public Utilities Commission before they can launch in the state.  The company expects to do that within a couple of months.

This story was produced by KPCC