It’s obvious homeless people need things such as food and shelter, but in Wisconsin people are wondering whether they really need voicemail.
A new state program being mulled over in Madison would earmark $40,000 to give people without homes a way to get telephone messages.
Homeless advocate Karla Jameson of Transitional Housing Inc. says it’s a way for the homeless to get jobs and maybe make enough money to get places to live. A potential employer needs to communicate with a potential employee, she says.
"It's just a basic thing, it's an obvious thing," she said. "You need a phone number so somebody can get a hold of you."
Homeless man Roy Johnson knows. He may have lost chances to earn a buck because he doesn’t have voicemail.
"It's very frustrating, because you're wondering why haven't these people called you?" he said.
There are dozens of homeless voicemail programs around the country, most funded by charitable contributions.
In Wisconsin, it’s a different story because it would rely on public funding. The state would collect the money from phone companies doing business within the state. And, naturally, the phone companies would get their money from their customers. And that has curdled the blood of some Cheeseheads.
"It's a tax!" Wisconsin state representative Tim Hoven, a Republican from Fort Washington, said. "It's a luxury. But only in government are we going to create an entitlement now called 'voicemail.'"
He’s asked Gov. Scott McCallum to cut the program out of the state budget, arguing that while it might only be $40,000 this year, the number would surely keep on climbing. That would be one thing if it were privately funded, but it has no place in a state budget, he said.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.