Expanded program allows California's homeless, poor free cellphones

SAN FRANCISCO — Impoverished Californians, including those who are homeless, soon will be able to get free cellphones and service thanks to the recent expansion of a statewide program.

Two wireless carriers are now offering free phones and monthly plans for 250 minutes and 250 text messages to all those who can prove that they make less than $14,702 a year, or are income eligible.

Before last week, the program only provided free landlines to the needy. But on Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission approved two companies' proposals to offer free mobile service funded in part through the Federal Communications Commission's Lifeline program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/WGQlKS).

Bevan Dufty, San Francisco's head of homeless initiatives, plans to send staff to low-income housing complexes and shelters in the coming weeks to make sure the city's least fortunate know how to apply. Dufty and advocates for people experiencing homelessness have been pressing the commission to approve the program for three years, saying that cell-phone Lifeline plans have been approved in most other states.

"We are very excited by this," Dufty said. "It will help people move forward. It will empower them, and we in San Francisco are going to be a model city for this program."

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