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Free cell phones to Californians with low income

Published On: Dec 12 2012 07:27:58 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 12 2012 10:23:58 PM CST
INDIO, Cali. -

 People in need can get food stamps and help with housing, but soon they may even get free cell phones. The program may sound like a handout, but really it's a hand up.
     Some homeless advocates call it a game changer. But for many people in need, it's hope for a better future.
     The California Public Utilities Commission recently approved the federal program called Lifeline, which essentially gives free phones to low income people.
     For the homeless, not having a phone means missing calls for a job or a place to live. Mark McGowan works at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, he told us, "I have witnessed and I have talked to many people that are trying to get employment, they fill out applications, they get the first interview, the second interview could be correct and they have no way of communicating with them. Or, could you imagine if you filled out a job application and put no phone number?"
     Martha's Village and Kitchen in Indio offers a similar service with a phone bank to help connect people with possible employers. Jimmica Guess is associate director of development at Martha's, she let us know how it works. "If they're searching for a job they can use our telephone banks so they can call employers and leave the phone number there. And, also when they're out with an interview they can give the employers the phone number, the employers will call here, leave a message, and then we give those messages to our residents as well as the public clients," Guess said.
     But a phone bank can't help the homeless while they're on the streets, nor does it help them achieve the ultimate goal of independence that a cell phone can provide.
     Victor Guevara frequents Martha's, and he knows how tough it can be without a phone. He said, "I'm a security guard by trade and they tell me, 'Hey Victor, they're hiring over here and like you said, I don't have a phone...' so it makes it a lot harder for me to go from point A to B.  And when I get here, the appointment might be filled up. A phone saves a lot of time, and a lot of walking."
     Taxpayers are picking up the tab for these free phones. But, the cost isn't very high, at about ten dollars a year.