Lifeline program has been active since 1985 and has provided a great number of households with low income with discounted landline and wireless services and even with free government cell phones.
Lifeline’s goal is to enable all Americans with the security that having a phone brings – giving the opportunity to connect with friends and family, get a job, and have the ability to call for help in case of emergency.
Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is the one responsible for Lifeline administration, collecting data, calculations, and disbursement for low-income households. Since 2016, free government cell phones must meet the minimum standards and broadband service was included in the Lifeline program for low-income.
Low-Income Level – Criteria to Get a Free Government Phone
Low-income might sound like a very relative term, however, it is determined by the USAC based on very clearly determined poverty guidelines that are calculated by the Census Bureau on a yearly basis.
Each year poverty guidelines are calculated and publish by the end of January for the ongoing year. There are three categories of poverty guidelines: one for 48 contiguous states, one for Alaska, and one for Hawai. The exact values are listed below.
The low-income level that Lifeline program considers and can get you a free government phone is set at 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines and is universal throughout the USA. Though, some wireless companies might set this threshold at 150% in certain states.
Further, a household’s poverty guidelines, of course, depend on the number of people in that household (look at the table below for clarification).
Table 1: Poverty guidelines 2019 (https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines)
|PERSONS IN FAMILY/HOUSEHOLD||POVERTY GUIDELINE FOR THE 48 CONTIGUOUS STATES||POVERTY GUIDELINE FOR ALASKA||POVERTY GUIDELINE FOR HAWAII|
|If more than 8, add this amount for each additional person||$4,420||$5,530||$5,080|
Who Can Apply for Low-Income Lifeline Support
As with every government program, there are strict rules set in place allowing only eligible people to get the low-income Lifeline support.
The National Verifier is a centralized system that was established by the FFC and is operated by USAC. This system verifies Lifeline applicants’ eligibility. Check if you are eligible by following this link: https://www.checklifeline.org/lifeline. This system attempts to perform verification automatically, however, there might not be sufficient data available. In this case, you will have to submit the required documents yourself.
In order to apply, you must have a permanent or temporary (rental) address in the USA.
Only one discount or one Lifeline support package per household. Household is defined as a group of people who live together and share income and expenses.
Only grown-ups (at least 18 years old) may apply for Lifeline support.
Here is the full list of rules as set by the USAC that you must follow if you were to get a free government phone:
- You must be able to prove your eligibility – if you are applying for the Lifeline support based on low-income you must be able to prove that you meet the 135% poverty threshold.
- One discount per household.
- Rectify/renew every year – all Lifeline benefits run on a yearly basis and you must confirm your eligibility each year.
- You must actively use your discount – if you are using a free Lifeline-supported service you must use it at least once every 30 days. If you are not using it, you will receive a 15-day notice saying your support will be taken away.
- Updating your data – any change (new address, change in income, etc.) that affects your Lifeline discount must be noted. You must notify your Lifeline support provider within 30 days since the change occurred.
Documents to Prove Your Income Level
As mentioned above, in order for you to get Lifeline low-income based support, you must prove that you meet the 135% poverty threshold. There is quite a lot of documents that may be used in order to do so.
Here is a full list of documents that can be used to prove that your income is at 135% of the poverty threshold or lower (only one of these is needed):
- The prior year’s state, federal, or Tribal tax return
- Current income statement from an employer or paycheck stub
- Social Security statement of benefits
- Unemployment or Workers’ Compensation statement of benefits
- Federal or Tribal notice letter of participation in General Assistance
- Divorce decree, child support award, or other official document containing income information
NOTE 1: If the document that you choose doesn’t cover a full year (e.g.: a pay stub), you must show the same document for three months in a row within the same year to prove your gross annual income.
NOTE 2: In case you apply in person or via email, never send/give the actual document but their copies.
Lifeline Support NOT Based on Low-Income
Yes, there is another way to enter the program. You may apply for Lifeline support based on a member of your household being part of certain government-supported programs.
Alternatives to low-income eligibility:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Tribal Programs (and live on federally-recognized Tribal lands):
- Any of the federal assistance programs listed above
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard)
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
Documents to Prove Participation
If you or any household member participates in one of the above-listed programs, your household is eligible for Lifeline support discount or FREE services (if a wireless company provides them), and maybe even a free government phone (depend on wireless provider’s policy).
Similar to low-income proof, participation must also be proven.
Here is a list of information that a document, which can serve as a proof of participation must include:
- Your name, or the name of your benefit qualifying person (BQP);
- The name of the Lifeline-qualifying program, such as SNAP;
- The government or Tribal program administrator or the managed care organization (MCO) that issued the document; and
- An issue date within the last 12 months or a future expiration date that aligns with the benefit period.
In most cases, a copy of a membership card or a cover letter issued by the program administrators will be sufficient.
Documents to Prove Identity
If you want to benefit from the Lifeline support you will have to apply based on the low income or participation one of the household members in government-supported programs. Either way, you will have to prove your identity.
Here is the full list of documents that may be used to prove your identity, when applying for Lifeline support:
- Driver’s license (unexpired)
- Birth certificate
- Prior year’s state, federal, or Tribal tax return
- Social Security card
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
- Permanent resident card (unexpired)
- Permanent resident alien card (unexpired)
- S. government, military, state, or Tribal issued ID (unexpired)
- Passport (unexpired)
- Military discharge documentation
- Weapons permit (unexpired)
- Government assistance program document (that includes proof of identity)
- Statement of benefits from a qualifying program (that includes proof of identity)
- Unemployment or worker’s compensation statement of benefits
NOTE: These are general guidelines provided by lifelinesupport.org and each individual wireless company may have some specific requirements.
Application Process Free Government Cell Phones for Low Income
To help you out as much as possible, we decided to write down the steps that you must take in order to apply for the Lifeline support. The process is no different, whether you are applying based on low-income or participation in one of the above-listed government-supported programs (this only affects the documents (copies of documents) you must submit).
Roughly, the Lifeline application process consists of three steps:
Step 1#: Qualify
As we described above, qualifying for Lifeline support is possible through a government assistance program or based on your household’s low-income. We’ve already covered the documents needed to prove your eligibility.
Step #2: Choose a company
In order to use the Lifeline discount, you must find a free cell phone company (a wireless provider) that has endorsed the Lifeline Assistance program and will offer you a discounted or free plan and perhaps even a free government phone.
You may use this tool to find a company near you that offers Lifeline discounts or special free deals: https://data.usac.org/publicreports/CompaniesNearMe/Download/Report.
Step #3: Sing Up
By far the easiest way is to apply online. Most wireless providers that offer Lifeline plans enable you to apply through their site – visit providers website and look for ‘Lifeline’ and then click on the ‘Apply’, ‘Enroll’, ‘Start’, or any other button of that sort.
If you prefer to apply via standard mail or in person, ask the company you choose for a Lifeline application.
Whichever way you choose, you will have to enter your full legal name, date of birth, last 4 digits of your Social Security number (or Tribal identification number), and your address.
On top of that, you will need to submit or attach copies of the supporting documents as per the previous section.
Once your application is approved, you get to enjoy your benefits.
Free Government Cell Phones for Low Income Benefits List
The Lifeline Assistance program promises a $9.25 monthly discount to your telecommunication services bill. This is the basic benefit that you are always entitled to. However, as we already told you above, many wireless providers in your state offer their generous Lifeline deals and some even give those who are eligible free government phones.
Thus, it is always smart to perform small research to learn which provider will offer you the best deal. To assist you even further, we have done extensive research ourselves for every state so you don’t have to. Simply view our reports and select a provider that best suits your needs.
Once your Lifeline support has been approved, you have certain rights and benefits that you should be aware of and make sure that a chosen provider delivers as obligated.
Here is the list of your rights as a Lifeline beneficial:
- The minimum service standard – every company is required to meet these standards:
- For cell phones: At least 1000 minutes
- For mobile internet (a data plan): Speed of 3G or better and usage of at least 2 GB per month
- For home internet: Speed of 18/2 Mbps and usage of at least 1000 GB per month
NOTE: For bundled service offerings: at least one of the services (voice or internet) must meet the minimum service standards to qualify for a Lifeline discount.
- You must be given a choice of a hotspot-enabled device. Your provider must have at least one device with hotspot functionality available for data plans.
- Ability to choose which service uses Lifeline. If you are purchasing a bundle, you have the right to apply Lifeline to the voice or the internet service.
- You have the right to change providers at any time.
- You are entitled to full customer support. If your provider is unresponsive or refuses to help you, contact your state’s public utility regulator, USAC, or the FCC to complain.
Wireless providers that offer free government phones DO NOT GIVE you the option of choosing a device yourself. You are given a device that is currently available and inside their Lifeline program’s value range. Many companies also give you the option of bringing your own phone if it is compatible with their system.
The best Lifeline FREE deals usually include 1000 minute talk, unlimited texts, up to 3GB of data per month, and a free smartphone. As such, make sure you check all the available options and see which provides you with the highest value of benefits.
NOTE: Low-income benefits or participant-in-a-government-supported-program benefits, both have the same plus sides since they are essentially two different entry tickets to the same Lifeline Assistance program.
We hope you will be able to use the information provided herein to your advantage and get the support you are entitled to. If you will choose the best deal, you will get a free monthly plan and a free government phone, which will both give you a chance you stay connected and in touch with your peers, coworkers, family, and friends.
If you would like to know about cell phone companies, visit here How To Get Assurance Wireless Free Phone