Friday, March 27, 2015

ObamaPhone or Indiana Lifeline Assistance

So I received my "ObamaPhone" application in the mail recently. I know there is so much to talk about right now, but since I have this in front of me and there is a ton of false information and ignorance about this particular subject I think this is necessary. Also: I want to contribute to the works that actually help people on occasion - this blog is not just for me sounding off about things that are wrong.

No big info, just for reference.
Picture of the flyer that came with my application. I wanted to show you the application, but I could not come up with a way to show you, Gentle Reader, what I wanted to show you without displaying personal information. 
They are cracking down on fraud and abuse on both corporate and individual levels. Do not falsify anything on your application.

Let me say right now that there is nothing wrong with needing a lifeline phone. They will only ask you about how you qualify, not about how or why you believe you need their phone. Even if your situation is okay but perhaps subject to cataclysmic change it is something you should consider. Maybe your need is obvious and undeniable. Maybe everything is fine today, but the finances are out of your hands. Maybe it will only take one big couple fight to find you in desperate need of a phone. Maybe you are at home taking care of a parent that uses access to cars, phones and whatnot to control you and your business. Only people that could really need one are even eligible, so do not let internalized classism keep you from help you need no matter why you need it. 

My application came to me though my health coverage. I am disabled so I have the state's health program. You can see if you are eligible for Indiana's Lifeline Assistance program here at Safelink. As with all things "free" it comes with ad offers and such, but you can opt out of most of them. But I am getting ahead of myself. 

You can apply straight up at the website above if you do not receive a pre-approved application in the mail. (Note: that approval only lasts a few days, so use your application right away if you receive one.) You can also apply at your local library. If you are having extreme trouble, you can apply over the phone, but they do save that for folks having trouble with the process.

The application I received is in English on one side, Spanish on the other, and I think they have other language options at the web site. All I had to fill out was my name, address, last four Social Security number digits, and a contact phone number if you have one. There is also a box to check if your address is temporary. 

Next you pick your plan. The choices are 68 minutes a month, 125 minutes a month, and 250 minutes a month. Each plan comes with different options. The most important one is that the 68 and 125 plans have roll over/carry over minutes, whereas the 250 plan does not. The first couple of months have bonus minutes, and my offer included free calls to my docs even if my time is used up. Speaking of, you can of course buy SafeLink cards to extend your time if you have used it up for the month.

Once you get though that, you have to swear under penalty of perjury that you belong to the plan they believe qualifies you and a handful of other statements like that a qualifying household can only participate in the plan once. If you have trouble reading small print I definitely recommend using the website so you can use your browser options to size the text to your comfort level and ability.

That is it. You can fill out the paper application, go online, call their question line, fax it. As my own application progresses I will update this article. I am happy to say that the process seems to be fairly easy so far

Updates will go here. Corrections to the above, if needed, will be added where appropriate and clearly indicated.

  • This process immediately showed itself to be a government program, in that it is difficult to navigate in ways that only the government can produce (and I mean in general, no offense to the current administration).
  • I filled out the paper application so I could walk through it in this article, but my plan was to go online to file. However, the first thing Safelink wants is your "enrollment ID." Guess what? There is no such thing labeled on the application. There is a member ID, and promo code, and a bar code, but no such number labeled.
  • My call to the help number at the bottom of the paperwork was promptly answered, filling me with false hope. The support personnel on the other end of the line was difficult to hear, and stuck to a script which did not answer my question at all. At one point there was an indication that it might be my insurance number (my qualifying program), but that is also used as my "member ID" and was not usable as my "enrollment ID." So that was a 14 minute exercise in futility.
  • I could not start a fresh application because their web form would not accept my hyphenated last name. Later even the tech support agent helping me had trouble and even asked me if I had changed it on my government paperwork. (Yes, I did, sexist coder that wrote this form, I did.)
  • Next is my call to the help line listed on their web page. They have separate numbers for account help and tech support. The line is automated at first and is designed to help without connecting you to a real person. I needed a live person. It took two minutes to get connected to live help, which is not bad in my experience.
  • Again, the script given to assist customers was almost the opposite of help. It took another thirty two minutes to suss out that the only way to get past the lack of "enrollment ID" and the last name business was to apply over the phone. Now, the person I actually dealt with was heroic in trying to stick to the script. She also actually wanted to and eventually did help.
  • At one point I had to give the "I have worked in tech and tech support, I would not be bugging you if anything I could try worked!" speil. 
  • It was assumed I wanted the 250 minute plan, the others were not mentioned.
  • Applying over the phone is tedious, repetitive and irritating. If you can use any other method, I recommend quite strongly that you do so.
  • So now the wait is on! 7 to 10 business days should produce an Indiana Lifeline Assistance handset...