WICHITA, Kansas – Free for everyone. You likely have seen the tents around Wichita advertising the free cell phones. And, if your income is low enough, the Government gives you a free cell phone.
KSN wanted to know if you could get a free phone, even if your income level does not quality you. We also wanted to know if cell phone companies would hand out the phones just to make a quick sale.
So we sent our undercover cameras to check it out. We put a hidden camera on Alyssa, a KSN Producer.
“I was wondering if I could get one of these,” asked Alyssa. “And I was wondering if I could get one for my cousin. She’s only 16 and she needs a cell phone.”
The woman supervising the free government cell phone tent turned our producer away. On both counts.
“You’ve got to have income statements,” the woman told KSN. “You have to get government assistance of some kind to qualify for this.”
She went on to say you could only get one free cell phone per household, which does follow the Federal Government guidelines.
There are several listed guidelines that allow you to get a cell phone. Some of the qualifications that make you eligible include being at 135% of the Federal poverty level. That’s essentially $32,700 income for a family of four.
Other guidelines that make you eligible include families that get government assistance, participation in Medicaid, if you receive food stamps or Supplemental Security Income.
READ MORE | Government Lifeline Program website
“Okay, I don’t really get any of those things,” said Alyssa. “Do you have to follow those rules?”
Our producer, Alyssa, was turned away on all counts.
So we sent another KSN producer to another free cell phone tent to see if others would follow the federal rules.
Producer Jordyn asked the obvious questions, asking for a free cell phone. Again, Jordyn did not qualify for a free government cell phone.
“Can I get one of these,” asked Jordyn.
The supervisor running the free government cell phone tent asked very pointed questions.
“Have you ever had a government issued phone before? Do you have any government assistance?” the woman asked Jordyn.
Jordyn explained the answer was, no.
“Then… this is the only other thing I can approve you with,” the woman explained. “If you fall under any of those guidelines right there.”
The woman turned Jordyn away and said she always follows the rules, instead of trying to make a quick sale.
KSN came back the next day with our camera, a photographer, and a reporter to ask questions.
Turns out the woman at the tent is named Denise Allen. And she agreed to be on camera.
We asked if she is asked by people to “bend the rules” and give them a free cell phone, even if they do not qualify.
“Yes, every day,” said Allen, who works for a company called YourTel. “Every day.”
We asked Allen what she tells people who continue to ask for a cell phone, and ask her to bend the rules.
“Well, now the government has us check ID, and then send ID into entity. So we sent it through to One Source,” explains Allen. “You have to show us proof, and the feds (federal government) now checks your information. They check your Vision card or your ID. We take a picture of it and we send it… and they check it.”
Allen explains it has not always been that way. She says new Federal checks and balances make it easy to identify income, or eligibility.
“Yes, because before they didn’t have much of an idea of what and who was getting the phones. They didn’t have anywhere to send the information and check it at the time you were getting the phones,” says Allen. “So, therefore, the people would go from phone company to phone company to phone company.”
Allen says some were getting multiple phones, breaking the rules.
But now, Allen says, the rules are enforced thoroughly. She scans a drivers license and sends it in for an instant check.
Allen also says, now that Federal checks are in place, she’s excited the truly needy are the only ones getting the phones.
“I average about a dozen phones a day. Some days one or two,” says Allen. “And the people getting them are really in need of a phone. And it ranges — from homeless to right out of prison or just low-income families or elderly.”