The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Committee on Telecommunications today voted to pass a substitute version of a resolution that calls on the FCC and the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) to work with states to properly launch the Lifeline national verifier in a way that allows eligible consumers to “reasonably and efficiently sign up for the federal Lifeline program without undue burdens or delays.”
Changes made to the proposed resolution, which was sponsored by Commissioner Crystal Rhoades of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, removed references that encouraged the FCC and USAC to allow low-income consumers to use their SNAP and Medicaid cards to prove eligibility for Lifeline until the national verifier databases were up and running.
South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson offered the substitute resolution today, saying that while the national verifier was currently not working as it should, asking the FCC to change its rule regarding the use of SNAP and Medicaid cards as proof of current enrollment in those programs was inadvisable. He and other state commissioners said there was concern about fraud and abuse considering that the cards have no expiration date and photos for correct identification.
Commissioner Rhoades, meanwhile, said NARUC should support the use of SNAP and Medicaid cards only until the databases were properly working, especially since the FCC had said that enrollment in the programs made someone eligible for Lifeline support, as well.
“In a perfect world the databases would be available and we wouldn’t need to rely on SNAP or Medicaid cards without expiration dates,” she said. “And I hope USAC is able to accomplish that, but to date it has not. And the result is that thousands of people who are eligible are being kicked out because we can’t verify their eligibility because the databases are not available. So as an interim step I think it’s acceptable to allow the use of cards.”
Commissioner Johann Clendenin, a member of the U.S. Virgin Islands Public Services Commission, said that use of such cards for verification purposes “leaves us vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”
“I agree we don’t want to deny anyone services … but we should just support the FCC and this program and help them make it better,” Commissioner Clendenin said. “I want to make sure we are creating a resolution that supports the continued expansion of the program to people who need it without the potential for fraud and abuse.”
Ultimately, the draft resolution adopted by the committee today urges USAC to “follow the rules set forth by the FCC for the proof eligibility; streamline the Lifeline paper application; ensure that critical state/federal databases for eligibility programs such as SNAP and Medicaid are accessible in states where the national verifier has been launched or is being launched; and allow Lifeline providers to provide MCO-generated proof of eligibility for Medicaid recipients, until such time as the national verifier is otherwise able to handle these matters in a satisfactory manner.”
The resolution will not become final NARUC policy until it is approved by the board of directors, which meets tomorrow. -Carrie DeLeon, [email protected]
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