The federal government operates an assistance program called LifeLine that helps qualifying low-income families across the country get a free cell phone and phone service. We’ll offer information here about how it works and the steps to follow to sign up.
This program was established in 1985 and is administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). It is one of the many programs that the federal government maintains under a system of telecommunication subsidies called the Universal Service Fund.
Since its introduction, Lifeline has helped more than 15 million households get access to free cell phones and quality wireless and landline phone service.
How to Qualify for a Free Phone from the Government
To get a free phone from the government through the Lifeline assistance program, households need to meet certain criteria designed to certify that they require financial support to access all of the benefits of having a cell phone, such as being able to find jobs, contact family members and handle emergencies. There are two ways to qualify for a Lifeline account: via participation in federal or state assistance programs or total household income.
Most low-income households qualify for Lifeline due to their participation in a federal or state assistance program. In general, authorities and designated providers take that as proof enough of eligibility, and as a result do not go through the hassle of verifying financial need all over again.
Instead, they require a card or award letter that confirms the requesting party’s participation in the federal programs that are accepted as proof of eligibility, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8), Veterans Pension and Survivor’s Benefit, and Medicaid. Interested parties can contact their local Lifeline provider to request more information about the process.
If no household members are participants in a federal program, they can still qualify for a free cell phone via their total household income. All they need to do is provide proof of income through a pay stub or tax return. Similar to how housing assistance programs work, families can request assistance if their income falls below 135%, 150% or 175% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG), depending on which state they live and which provider they choose to request the assistance from.
As of 2018, the FPG determines $12,140 as the minimum income a single-person household must have to be above the poverty level in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The number increases to $13,960 for Hawaii and $15,810 for Alaska. For families of more than one member, the number increases by $4,320 for each additional person in all states but Hawaii ($4,970) and Alaska ($5,400). For example, a family of three that lives in Hawaii would need to earn less than $32,265 to qualify for a Lifeline account.
How to Apply for a free Phone from the Government
Households who meet the criteria by either being part of a federal assistance program or due to their total income can contact a Lifeline provider located in their state. To sign up for this assistance program, the following information must be provided: full legal name, date of birth, social security or tribal identification number, address, and the qualifying federal program or proof of annual household income. If the household already receives service from the provider, they can request the benefit be applied to their existing account.
Once they have signed up, households can choose which phone they would like to receive as part of the Lifeline program. Several carriers such as Assurance Wireless offers their customers Android-powered smartphones as part of their Lifeline service.
There are some restrictions that qualifying families must take into account when requesting assistance through the Lifeline program. For example, only one Lifeline account is allowed per household, and it has to be either wireless or landline, but not both. It is important that families understand their needs before requesting assistance.