A free cell phone, free minutes, and free voicemail… sound too good to be true? A government program is making it possible for those who qualify, but not everybody's happy about it. The program is called Safelink. It provides free cell phones and service to the elderly, homeless, and disabled. It is paid for by federal tax dollars. Dolores Brown saw a commercial for Safelink a couple weeks ago, and decided to check it out. "It's completely free, you know, and that's wonderful. I just can't imagine anyone doing anything like that for the elderly,” she said. Dolores is 70 years old. She's an actress and singer here in town, but can't get enough work to pay the bills. She relies on food stamps and government-assisted living, and now a free phone. Originally designed to provide free emergency-service to landline telephones, Safelink recently expanded to include cell service. A pre-paid company called Tracfone provides those eligible with 71 free roll-over minutes and the option to buy more. Now Dolores feels more comfortable leaving home. "When you're in the street and you have an emergency, everybody, everybody has a cell phone, and to have to borrow somebody's phone in the street is really embarrassing,” she said. Some, like Cindy Bodenheimer, don't mind her tax dollars paying into the cell phone program. "I work with elderly people and there are a lot of elderly people that live by themselves, anytime we can keep somebody from going to the hospital, and maybe a problem being addressed at home, I think is a good idea. And the same thing for homeless people, if they had somebody they could call that might could give them some immediate assistance, it might save everybody in the long run." Others are not pleased. "It stinks. We're working for them to get a freebie, even if it's for 911 purposes it's still, you know, get a job, that's all there is to it,” said Joe Marx. Social workers and those who work with the homeless say the program provides the means to get that much-needed job. Dolores says she understands people's concerns, but is glad Safelink is there to help her. "I'm sorry for the people who do have to pay, because we're living in a bad time, economy-wise, but by the same token, it's still wonderful that there are people out there willing to help the elderly, who cannot afford it." According to Nielsen research, 90 percent of Americans have at least one cell phone. About 32 million people don't have cell service. Cell phone companies like Tracfone hope when the economy turns around, subsidized customers that no longer qualify for the free phones will turn into paying customers.
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