Phones have become essential to our daily life in the digital age. They’re not just for social media and professional communications but also safety. Fortunately, some programs can help you get free cell phone service. One such program is Lifeline. This guide will show you everything you need to know about this program. The government-subsidized phone carriers that offer Lifeline service do a good job of providing cheap or free phones for eligible participants.
What is Lifeline Assistance?
The Lifeline Assistance program was established in 1985 by the Federal Communications Commission to make it easier for low-income consumers to afford telephone services. Today, eligible households can receive a monthly subsidy of up to $9.25 off the cost of home phone, broadband Internet and bundled service. Eligible consumers must apply through a participating provider to be verified for the program. Hundreds of wireless and broadband service providers nationwide offer wireless phone resource service. Some are national brands, while others are regional or discount carriers. You can search online for providers near you that participate in the program by visiting this USAC website, which operates the National Verifier database that the FCC created. However, if you want to choose a specific provider, you should contact them directly to learn whether they are a participating Lifeline provider. Many providers also have low-income plans that are available to Lifeline participants. Also, many cellular service providers have a special program that gives Lifeline participants a free smartphone and monthly wireless service.
Who Benefits from Lifeline Assistance?
For nearly 40 years, Lifeline has helped eligible low-income Americans connect to telecommunications services. The program is funded by fees collected on consumer telephone bills. Initially focused on voice telephony, the FCC, under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, reformed Lifeline in 2016 to allow participants of federally-recognized assistance programs to use their subsidies to pay for broadband and cellphone service. As part of these reforms, the FCC created a National Verifier system whereby service providers verify subscribers’ eligibility for the program. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – formerly known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit — is another program that makes phone and internet service more affordable for qualified households. To qualify for this benefit, you must participate in one of the following government assistance programs: As part of its eligibility requirements, the program requires you to provide proof of participation in the above assistance programs and that your income is below the established guidelines. The program accepts a variety of documents, including paystubs, tax returns, and SNAP benefits cards. You must also provide proof of residence by showing an official address document or a utility bill. Only one household per address may receive Lifeline benefits. In addition, the program only offers one discount per household and does not allow you to transfer your Lifeline discount between service providers.
How Does Lifeline Assistance Work?
The Lifeline Program works with service providers or carriers to offer low-cost telecommunications plans. Lifeline subsidies, which pay for part of the monthly cost of phone or internet services, are provided to eligible consumers on a per-household basis. The program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, or USAC, which also oversees the national verifier that confirms a consumer’s eligibility for Lifeline assistance. The federal government has strict guidelines for who qualifies as a member of a Lifeline-qualified household. Generally, consumers must earn 135% or less of the federal poverty guidelines. Eligible consumers may also participate in federal assistance programs like Medicaid, SNAP or SSI. In addition, individuals who live in housing programs like Section 8 or other subsidized housing programs are also eligible for the program. Most major home telephone and wireless service providers and some cable and broadband providers participate in the Lifeline program. A full list of participating companies can be found on the USAC website, which operates the national verification system for the program. You can also use the search feature on this site to find a provider near you that offers a Lifeline discount. The Lifeline discount is only available for one phone or broadband account per household, and it can be used toward a home landline phone, a mobile phone or a bundled plan that includes both internet and a wireless telephone.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Lifeline Assistance?
To be eligible for the program, consumers must meet the income requirements. This includes participation in entitlement programs like Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), HEAP (heat assistance plan), Section 8, Federal Public Housing Assistance and other similar benefits. Income levels for eligibility are 135% or less of the poverty guidelines, depending on household size. In addition to a free phone, the program also provides a discount internet service. This is available through various providers, including big wireless carriers. Other options come from MVNOs, which specialize in supplying Lifeline services. While they usually cost more, they can offer more flexibility than a standard carrier with their limited lineup of phones.
To find the best provider, check out this list of Lifeline-approved providers in your area. These providers have been verified through the Lifeline National Verifier database, operated by USAC. Consumers can find more information about the program and its requirements on this USAC website.