(National Review) -- If you find yourself at a loose end today, take a moment and have a quick look at your latest phone bill. Among the various taxes, surcharges, and fees that clog up the second page, you’ll find something called a “Universal Service Fund” contribution. This suspicious, well-disguised little levy was quietly introduced in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. And you’ll never guess what it’s for.
Well, congratulations are in order: You’re paying someone else’s phone bill! Turns out that any American citizen who is on welfare, food stamps, or Medicaid — or whose income is less than 135 percent of the federal poverty line — is entitled to a free landline or cell phone on your dime. For those who qualify, the program, rather misleadingly called “Lifeline,” will pay for a $30 wireless phone or pick up the costs associated with a landline installation. Then it will pay the bills to the tune of $9.25 a month, which is equivalent to 250 minutes of talk time. As of 2011, 13.7 million accounts had been registered.