Archive for Job Loss

Oct
15

Get Your Free Obama Phone!

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The Obama Lady 

The political ads and graphics are everywhere:  TV, newspaper, YouTube, Facebook, email – we’re inundated 24/7 with political advertising, and most of it isn’t very nice.  One of the not-so-nice videos I’ve seen floating around Facebook via YouTube is “The Obama Lady”.

The video is of a woman, jumping around and waving a poster board sign in a reporter’s face, all the while ranting about her “Free Obama Phone”.  In 2008, an email with the same script made the rounds, but four years down the road, technology has moved the email to video.  “The Obama Lady” video is tasteless, with the intent to convince the public that their tax dollars are going to give free cell phones, courtesy of President Obama, to every disadvantaged person in Cleveland, and, in turn, the entire country.  It’s an effort to embarrass and disenfranchise the poor among us, and generate anger toward the current White House Administration.

Lifeline Phone ServiceA few things in the video ARE true.

The government does give out “free” phones.  They’ve been doing it for almost 30 years, based on a Congressional mandate that ensures communication is available to all Americans.

In 1985, a program named “Lifeline” was started that gave discounted phone service to the poor, the elderly, disabled veterans, and the sick.  “Lifeline” was there so that if someone needed to call 911 due to an emergency, or make an appointment with their doctor, or call and check on a job application because they were unemployed and trying to find work, they could.  If Grandma fell and broke her hip, she had a phone to call for an ambulance, even when her Social Security check didn’t reach far enough each month to cover the phone bill.  The program started by furnishing land-line service, and expanded in 2005 to include limited, pre-paid cell phone service.

Do You Need a Hand-Up, Not A Hand-out?

The “Lifeline” program is available in every state, but it doesn’t come without rules and regulations.  Since its beginning, the program has required that anyone participating must have an income at or below the poverty line or participate in one of the following low-income assistance programs:

  • Medicaid
  • Food Stamps or SNAP
  • SSI
  • Section 8 Housing
  • Low-income energy assistance
  • Free school lunch program
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
  • Head Start
  • State assistance programs (if applicable)

There are other rules, too.  Only one Lifeline phone is allowed per household.  The household can have a land line or a cell phone, but not both.  The program doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles – this is basic and limited phone service.  The cell phone service is pre-paid with a limited number of minutes, and the land line is limited in service.  You’ve got to reconfirm eligibility on an annual basis in order to remain in the program.

Are You Eligible?  Is Grandma? 

If you’re interested in the Lifeline program, start by calling your phone company.  Over 2,000 phone companies across the country provide discounted phone service through Lifeline.  You can find a list of companies by state here:

Lifeline Support Companies By State

You can also use the Lifeline Pre-Screening Tool and check eligibility status.  It takes about 15 minutes:

Lifeline Pre-Screening Tool

 

Learn more about Lifeline here:

USAC – What Is Lifeline?

Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers

Lifeline Public Service Announcements 

 

Who Pays for Lifeline?

The phone companies contribute a percentage of their revenues to the Universal Service Fund (USF).  Your phone service provider may charge you a service charge called “Universal Service” if they try to recoup part of the cost of the program from customers.  The USF is administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Universal Service Administration (USAC), which pays for the discounted Lifeline phone service out of the fund.

The USF is also responsible for other communication programs.  In addition to Lifeline, the fund also makes discounts available to schools and libraries for telecommunication services, Internet access, and information services.  Rural health care providers, through the fund, have the capability to link to city hospitals and medical centers, giving rural America access to medical services they wouldn’t normally have available.

Find out more about the USF and FCC here:

FCC Consumer Guide

 

 

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Oct
11

Emergency! Emergency!

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No Job SignSix months ago, April 6th, on Good Friday (oh, the irony!) – my husband lost the job he had for 13 years. This came completely out of the blue, with no warning. I now know what the bug hitting the zapper in the back yard feels like.

Once the initial shock wore off, we took stock. We had an Emergency Fund, and my husband was owed vacation pay. When I added the two together, we had approx. $25,000 cash. I knew we’d be alright for a few months with the emergency fund, but I also knew we’d have to cut spending to the bone. We didn’t have any credit card debt, nor any car payments, which was a big plus. Those are expenses that can drain finances quickly. We did have a mortgage, insurance, utilities, food, gas – basic and necessary expenses that kept the roof over our heads, the Internet lights on, and food on the table.

I wasn’t overly worried. MrBP is good at his job. I knew the phone would be ringing fairly soon with a job offer, or he’d be able to network a bit and find an opening. This layoff was going to be just a little bump in the road in the overall scheme of things, and we would be fine.

The first thing MrBP did was file for unemployment. Unemployment in this country is not fair to the unemployed, as I’m sure anyone out of work will tell you. MrBP did qualify for the maximum amount of weekly unemployment: $320.00. Wow. I know $320 is better than nothing, but a month of unemployment checks still wouldn’t cover the mortgage. MrBP could also draw unemployment for the maximum number of weeks: 20. Another Wow. Twenty weeks of unemployment equals thirteen years of work history. If he had worked the for company for 30 years, 20 weeks was still the maximum number of weeks he could draw. There is something wrong with that government math!

When a person files for unemployment it takes some time to get that first check. Remember that vacation pay I mentioned? That had to be claimed as income for 3 weeks.  (If what you claim is more than the amount you’re eligible for – you don’t get paid unemployment that week)  At the end of the 3 “vacation” weeks, a waiting week had to be “put in”. This happens to everyone – the first week you are unemployed basically doesn’t count – for anything. Unemployment benefits don’t become available until the second week a person is out of work. Checks don’t come the second week either – the process of being approved for unemployment can take 2-3 weeks, or much longer. Considering the majority of the working population lives paycheck to paycheck, losing a job can be a big deal. All of this waiting for money is going on when people need that money the most!

MrBP was out of work for a month. He never did draw an unemployment check, because the 3 vacation weeks and the 1 waiting week took up that month. We had enough money in the bank that life went on as normal – we just didn’t spend any extra, we didn’t go out to eat, we didn’t go to the movies. Cutting out all unnecessary spending opened my eyes to the kind of money we did spend in some areas. Because there was enough coming in, neither of us had paid much attention to some of the conveniences that were going out. (After all, life shouldn’t be all work and no play, right?)

If we hadn’t had our Emergency Fund, life would have been a completely different story. We would have been in financial trouble fast, as fast as the bills came due. We spend $3000 monthly on house, utilities, insurance, and cell phone payments, but that doesn’t count food, gas for the cars, incidentals, etc.

Emergency Funds are as necessary as homeowners insurance is if you own your home, as necessary as car insurance is if you drive a car. Everyone should have an Emergency Fund. If you don’t have one, you need to start one. Don’t tell me you can’t afford one – you can’t afford NOT to have one!

An Emergency Fund is intended to replace income if you can’t work, but it’s also nice to have when the car needs major repair or the AC unit quits on a 100 degree day in July.

Most financial planners recommend having 3-6 months worth of living expenses saved. But, due to the state of the economy, the average length of time a person is unemployed these days is 9 months (Bureau of Labor Statistics). If you’ve only got a 3 month cushion, what are you going to do the other 6 months when the rent is due, and you’re still looking for work? I know what you’re thinking – you’ve got those credit cards in your billfold, and you’ll fall back on those if you really need to. Let me ask you this: when the credit line is used up, how are you going to repay that debt?

Starting and regularly adding to your Emergency Fund may feel daunting, and may seem like an insurmountable task.   The good news is, you may not need as much as you think. Sit down and make a list of every single bill you pay every month. Go through your bank statement and write down all debit card transactions and what they were for. Check the bank statement for ATM cash withdrawals, and write down what those were for. Get out your credit card statements and add those transactions to the list of money going out for the month. Add all the numbers up.

Now, cut out what isn’t absolutely necessary. The mortgage payment is necessary. $5 at Starbucks twice a week is not. Look closely at bills such as cell phone, cable, gym memberships, newspaper delivery, lawn care – if it came down to it, are these as necessary as food and electricity? No?  Cut those out. Once you figure out the basic living expenses you need to survive, multiple that by 12. Write that number down. Your savings goal is 12 months of basic living expenses in an Emergency Fund.

Work out a savings plan, even if all you can do is save $1 a week, or $25 a month, or the change from your pocket at the end of the day. Put that money in savings and forget it. Cut out one or both of those lattes every week and put that money in savings instead. Treat your Emergency Fund like it’s your water or gas bill, figure out how much you can save regularly, and pay the savings account just like it’s the mortgage company.  Start today.

I was glad we had savings to fall back on. We spent a lot of it, and it went faster than planned because the AC unit did break down on the hottest day of the year, along with a few other things.

During the 5th week of unemployment, the phone rang and MrBP was offered a job – at the opposite end of the state. A 3 hour drive, one way, from the home we’ve lived in for the last 24 years. Whoa.

The new job – and where it was at – brought up a lot of questions: were we going to relocate? Sell our home here? Rent it out? Rent in the new location, or buy? Where would MrBP live for the near future – with family in that area, and if so, for how long? How much was all of this going to cost? There were so many variables and many unknowns six months ago!  A few things didn’t work out, while great truths were learned … stay tuned to find out what happened!

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