Republicans have targeted a federal phone subsidy, widely referred to as the “Obama phone” program, as a prime example of wasteful government spending.

But supporters of the program are coming to its defense, arguing that it is crucial for ensuring that needy people are able to communicate with their loved-ones and call for help in an emergency.

“Allow me to set the record straight,” said Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, in a speech on Friday. “Without this program, 15 million low-income families would literally be choosing between feeding their children or going without a dial tone that potentially could save their lives and put them on a better economic path.”