As an example of this: go out and try applying for a job sometime, even a very basic one (like Wal-Mart or fast food), and don't list anything on the application when it asks for a phone number or email address. Most likely, you won't get the job. Why? Because the ability to be contacted easily has become fundamental to our society. No one wants an employee that they have to contact by the postal service.
There are some who, lacking money, would disconnect themselves in order to pay bills like water, food, and rent, and in the process make it extremely difficult for themselves to obtain gainful employment that returns them to productive status. The goal of programs likes this is to help them maintain personal marketability and vocational competitiveness by lifting the burden until they can earn enough to pick up the expense themselves again.
That's what this program is about. It's not that talking on the phone is a "right" (their spokesman is an idiot), but rather that it's cheaper to help people in ways like this then to allow them to fall behind the social and technological curve to the point that they (and their family) are unable to interact in a normal manner.
I think the idea has a lot of merit.
Under that logic the .gov should be buying these people 'business attire' so they can wear it to their job interview...even if they aren't looking for a job.
This program, like most entitlement programs uses a 'hook' of an unlikely but 'heartwarming' scenario that affects a tiny number of the recipients as a way to justify the gain by all who will NOT use it in a manner consistent with the hook scenario.
How many minutes of the 250 to each person is spent answering calls about a job opportunity? I'd be only 10% of those receiving phones are seriously applying for jobs and of those only a few minutes of the 250 are involved in jobsearch related calls.
How many of those people actually have ZERO friends and family who have phones that could be used as a contact point?
Further, we already have a lot of government programs in place dealing with helping people finding jobs. I think part of the welfare system or unemployment system one of the contingencies for getting your check is to be actively looking for work. Those systems or the numerous 'help unemployed people get jobs' programs are going to be able to assist the people who have no access to a phone by giving them a number that can be given to an employer to contact. This has been standard for years when trying to get people who are homeless or living in shelters to work.
AND if you need email you can get a gmail account and check your mail at the local library.