Fraud is so rampant throughout our numerous federal programs that most of us have heard anecdotal stories of people fleecing the government. In the case of the Lifeline program, some people have received free phones who didn't ask for them. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is investigating potential fraud in the Lifeline program. Lawmakers have an opportunity to reduce the potential for future fraud through House Bill 2165, which would give the agency the power to require documentation from phone service providers in order to qualify to be reimbursed through the program.
The documentation would include the initial verification and continued verification of eligibility of the individual getting the phone service, verification that the customer isn't receiving multiple Lifeline credits and, finally, that the provider is complying with the Lifeline guidelines. The legislation further authorizes the Corporation Commission to penalize noncompliant providers.
What's at stake? According to the commission, $236 million was received from the federal fund by all Oklahoma companies in 2012. Fraud could potentially be eating up millions of dollars. It's been noted that the federal government pays additional dollars to individuals living on land that was originally part of an Indian reservation, meaning there is more money to be had through fraud in Oklahoma than in many states.
I hope my House and Senate colleagues will join me in supporting this legislation to add accountability into the system.
State Rep. Jon Echols, Oklahoma City
Echols, a Republican, represents District 90 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.