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.
Why Do These Providers Offer Free Phones and Free Cell Phone Service?
Lifeline cell phone service providers are available in 49 U.S. states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. All of these providers offer free or discounted phones and free or discounted cell phone service precisely because they are Lifeline providers and Lifeline is the program that funds all of these devices and services.
Lifeline is the Federal Communications Commission’s program, established in 1985 to make communication services more affordable for low-income citizens. Lifeline is a part of the Universal Service Fund and it is a government-funded program. While at first, eligible low-income customers only received discounts on phones and monthly services, in 2005, the FCC made more changes and enabled wireless phone service providers to offer free cell phones and services to their customers using Lifeline benefits.
The lifeline program’s main objective is to ensure that all Americans are able to connect to their loved ones, jobs, and emergency services. As such they make sure that every low-income citizen has access to a free phone and wireless cell phone service.
What are the Criteria for Getting a Free Government Cell Phones for Low Income Level?
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
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.
What Documents are Needed 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.
What to Do If You are Not Eligible for Low Income Free Cell Phone
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
What are The 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.
What are The 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.
What are The 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.
What are the Benefits of Free Government Cell Phones for Low Income
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.
What if I Don’t Qualify for a Low Income and I Don’t Qualify for Other Standards?
Different Lifeline providers may have slightly different eligibility requirements, even though basically, the requirements are almost the same. If you don’t meet the requirements of any Lifeline provider in your state, you won’t be able to receive a free phone or free cell phone service.
Luckily, there are still many other ways to receive a free phone or at least a very affordable one.
Other ways to get a free cell phone
- Many carriers, especially MVNOs provide free cell phones by simply signing up for a new cell phone plan. Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, Metro by T-Mobile, and other smaller carriers often offer free Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Apple smartphones. In addition, their plans also tend to be much more affordable than the ones from major carriers companies.
- You can also receive a free phone as an instant rebate credited toward the full price of the phone.
- Other deals are available for a limited time. For example, you can get a free second phone if you purchase another one at the same time. Those deals tend to work like bill credits that are applied to your monthly service plan.
- Some providers may offer you a free phone if you bring your current phone number, switch to that carrier, and activate a new account.
Ways to get an affordable phone
- To get a new phone at a very affordable price, you may need to search for special deals and promotions. Minor carrier companies and MVNOs often offer phones at discounted prices.
- Special deals are usually available around the holidays and on Black Friday.
- Consider buying a refurbished device, as these tend to be much cheaper.
- Consider buying an unlocked device – it can save you money in the long run.
- Shop online to find the best deals and the most affordable prices.
- Trade in your old phone – this may also save you lots of money.
- Buy a device in affordable monthly installments. Many retailers and financial companies provide this option even if you have a bad credit score.
How to Renew Free Government Phone Service?
All Lifeline customers are required to renew their free government phone service once a year. This process will check if you are still an eligible Lifeline member and thus qualified to receive government-provided financial aid. Renewing the service keeps you from being disconnected and allows you to continue getting free service.
The exact renewal process may vary between providers, however, they are all similar to TruConnect’s process described below.
Your Lifeline provider will automatically send you a renewal form via mail 105 days before the anniversary date. The renewal form comes with your Personal Identification Number (PIN) in a pink envelope, on the first page of the renewal form. You can use your PIN to renew your service by phone, mail, or online. To do so by phone, call your provider’s customer support from your Lifeline phone and follow the provided instructions. To do so by mail, complete, sign, and send the form and your PIN to your provider’s address. Or you can search for your provider’s renewal form online.
Afterward, you will be notified in a letter confirming your renewal.
Low Income Free Government Phone Related Others Thing You Need to Knew
What is the Lifeline Assistance Program?
Lifeline Assistance Program is an FCC program established to help low-income consumers get more affordable communication services. It provides eligible members a discount on monthly telephone service, broadband internet service, or bundled voice-broadband services.
Are Free Phones Really Free?
Yes, Lifeline offers its eligible customers cell phones that are completely free of charge.
Do all free cell phone service plans maintain a minimum standard?
It depends on what you define as a minimum standard, however, Lifeline free cell phone service plans usually come with a comfortable amount of minutes, text messages, and data, which should fit the average user’s needs.
Do some providers load their free phones with malware?
This kind of incident should never happen. However, some users have reported getting phones with pre-installed malware via the Lifeline Assistance program. If something like this happens to you, make sure to contact your provider ASAP.
Are the free phones and free cell phone service plans any good?
Neither the free phones nor the free cell phone service plans are the best ones available. Other carriers offer much more advanced cell phones and much better unlimited plans, but for a much higher price. However, Lifeline-provided free phones and services are both remarkably good and reliable. Most Lifeline providers offer decent smartphones and plans with a generous amount of calls, texts, and data.
Do free cell phone providers offer reliable customer care?
This, of course, depends on the provider, however, most Lifeline providers are known for offering reliable, responsive, and competent customer care service.
Can I Get a Free Touch Screen Government Phone?
Yes, as long as you are an eligible Lifeline member, the free phone you will receive will probably be a touch screen phone, as most Lifeline providers offer smartphones.
Can I get a free Government Phone from Verizon Wireless?
No, there is no free government phone from Verizon Wireless. However, the company does offer a $9.25 discount on the monthly cell phone bill and other discounts for Lifeline eligible customers.
What type of free phone can I get (flip phone or smartphone)?
It depends on the Lifeline provider, however, most providers offer their Lifeline-eligible customers free smartphones.
In case you also need information about cell phone companies, visit here How To Get Assurance Wireless Free Phone