Are you in need of a phone or phone service but on a tight budget? Look no further! In this article, we will explore the top free government phone programs available in the US. From Lifeline to Affordable Connectivity Program, we’ll dive into the details of each program, including their features and eligibility requirements. We’ll also discuss how to apply and what to expect during the application process. Whether you’re a student, a senior citizen, or facing financial challenges, discover the best free government phone program that meets your needs and helps you stay connected without breaking the bank.
What is the Best Free Government Phone Program
The US government offers numerous assistance programs for people in need. For instance, Medicaid covers medical expenses, SNAP or Food Stamps covers nutritional costs, and SSI offers financial support for the disabled.
Traditionally, there was only one government phone program – the Lifeline Assistance Program. Lifeline was launched by the FCC in the 1980s and has since provided discounts on monthly phone, wireless, or internet services for eligible low-income customers who struggle to afford these types of services and have trouble staying connected. Currently, Lifeline subscribers can get a monthly discount of up to $9.25 for eligible non-Tribal households and up to $34.25 for eligible Tribal families.
Lifeline benefits and discounts are provided by the government and distributed through numerous participating wireless companies that operate in all US states and territories. These companies include large carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, which only offer discounted monthly phone plans, as well as smaller wireless providers that are focused exclusively on providing Lifeline benefits for low-income customers and tend to offer services completely free of charge.
In addition to discounted or free monthly plans, Lifeline companies also tend to offer discounted or free cell phones. Having both a phone and monthly services helps low-income households stay connected with loved ones, work, school, emergency services, etc.
Recently, the FCC has launched a new government assistance program, called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). As this program offers discounts (up to $30 a month or $75 a month for eligible Tribal households) on broadband services and one-time discounts on internet-connected devices, it is strictly speaking not a government phone program. Nonetheless, many Lifeline companies have decided to also participate in the new ACP program. This enables the companies to get more funds from the government and thus offer more benefits to eligible customers. As such, many wireless companies offer Lifeline and ACP combo plans, which include free monthly talk minutes, text messages, and high-speed data, as well as oftentimes, a free high-quality phone.
Technically speaking, there is only one free government phone program – the Lifeline program. However, in practice, you can get the best free phone and the monthly plan with the most minutes, texts, and GB of data through a combination of Lifeline and ACP.
Top Free Government Phone Programs in the United States
Even though there is only one free government phone program (Lifeline), which is sometimes complemented by the new ACP program, it is often referred to in plural (free government phone programs). This refers to Lifeline (and ACP) participating companies, which are indeed numerous and available in all US states and territories.
As such, the best (and only) government phone program is Lifeline (especially when combined with ACP), however, the best Lifeline (and ACP) providers are numerous and they depend on each customer’s preferences. We’ll take a closer look at the most generous Lifeline companies in one of the following sections.
How Does the Free Government Phone Program Work
Lifeline is an FCC (Federal Communications Commission) program that aims to make communication services more affordable for low-income consumers. It offers a discount on qualifying monthly telephone service, broadband Internet service, or bundled voice-broadband packages from participating providers, whether wireline or wireless. This discount helps ensure that low-income consumers can afford essential broadband access, which is crucial for accessing job opportunities, healthcare, and educational resources in the modern digital era.
The FCC provides funds to numerous wireless companies across the country and with these funds, Lifeline companies can provide discounted or free monthly plans and cell phones to eligible low-income customers. Most Lifeline companies only participate in a few states and customers can only apply for the benefits provided by a company that operates in their state of residence.
To get discounted or free services and devices from a government phone program provider (Lifeline or Lifeline + ACP), you must follow these steps:
- Make sure you qualify for the program and that you can prove your eligibility.
- Apply for the government phone program (Lifeline or both Lifeline and ACP).
- Find a free government phone program provider in your state and apply for its benefits.
How to Qualify the Free Government Phone Program
While there may be slight differences across states, Lifeline is a federal government assistance program with mostly universal qualifications. There are two main ways to qualify: through participation in certain government programs or by meeting income thresholds.
Lifeline Program Participation-based Eligibility:
You qualify if you or another member of your household participate in one of the following programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps)
- Section 8 (Federal Public Housing Assistance)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans or Survivors Pension Benefits
- Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) General Assistance
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
- Tribal Head Start (must meet income thresholds)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
Lifeline Income-based Eligibility:
In most states, the total household income must be below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines, which equates to $26,622 for a two-person household or $40,500 for a four-person household based on 2023 guidelines. However, income levels may vary by state, with some states allowing for higher income limits. See the table below to verify the income requirements in your state.
|Household Size||48 Contiguous States, D.C., and Territories||Alaska||Hawaii|
|For each additional person, add:||$6,939||$8,681||$7,979|
To qualify for ACP, it’s enough to be a Lifeline subscriber or to meet any of the Lifeline eligibility criteria listed above. You can also qualify for ACP if your annual household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, if your household has received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year, or if it participates in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or the Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program.
Moreover, to participate in the government phone program, you must be at least 18 years old or an emancipated minor and the only applicant in your household.
What if You Don’t Qualify for the Free Government Phone Program?
If you do not qualify for the free government phone program, there are still several options available for affordable phone services:
- Discounted Plans: Many phone service providers offer discounted plans specifically designed for low-income individuals and families. These plans may offer reduced rates, limited data or minutes, and basic phone features.
- Prepaid Plans: Prepaid plans allow you to pay for phone services in advance, without requiring a credit check or contract. These plans often offer flexibility and affordability, with options to choose a plan that fits your budget and needs.
- Community Programs: Some local community organizations or non-profit agencies may offer discounted or subsidized phone services for low-income individuals or families. It’s worth checking with such organizations in your area to explore available options.
- Budget-Friendly Devices: You can also consider purchasing a budget-friendly phone or opting for refurbished or second-hand devices, which can help reduce the overall cost of phone services.
- Free Devices: There are also several ways to get a free cell phone, including through promotional deals (which have some preconditions), from a charity or non-profit organization, online by participating in surveys or giveaway contests, etc.
It’s important to research and compare different options available in your area to find the best affordable phone service and/or device that meets your needs and budget.
How to Apply for a Free Government Phone Program
If you do qualify for the free government phone program, you can begin your application process.
First, it’s best to apply through the National Verifier and it’s undoubtedly better to do so online, as this way you can receive immediate approval. To do so, follow these steps:
- Visit nv.fcc.gov/ to apply for Lifeline and affordableconnectivity.gov to apply for ACP.
- Choose your state and follow online prompts.
- When redirected to the online application form, make sure to fill it out by providing all the required information and digital copies of proof documentation. Any valid official document that verifies your income or program participation (as well as some personal information) is considered acceptable proof documentation.
- Press Next at the end of each page and submit the form at the end.
- If your application gets approved, you will be notified shortly.
Alternatively, you can apply via mail, however, this process will take much longer. To apply via mail, follow these instructions:
- Print out the Lifeline application form at lifelinesupport.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/get-lifeline/LI_Application_NVstates.pdf and the ACP application form at affordableconnectivity.gov/wp-content/uploads/ACP-Application-Form-English.pdf.
- When applying for ACP, also make sure to print out Household Worksheet instructions at affordableconnectivity.gov/wp-content/uploads/lifeline/images/ACP-Household-Worksheet-English.pdf.
- Fill out all of these forms by providing all the required information.
- Add physical copies of your proof documentation to prove your income or program participation (depending on your eligibility criterion), as well as some personal information. Make sure not to send out original documents!
- Send the papers to Lifeline/ACP Support Center, PO Box 9100, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773.
- The National Verifier will try to analyze your application as soon as possible and they will get back to you when they reach a decision.
Finally, after the National Verifier has approved your application, you can find the best free government phone program in your area and apply for their benefits as well. To apply through a company, follow these prompts:
- Find the best free government phone program provider in your area.
- Visit its official website and review its benefits carefully.
- Enter your ZIP code to view the provider’s plans in your area.
- Choose the plan that best fits your needs. A word of advice – if possible, apply for the Lifeline and ACP Combo plan, as these types of plans tend to offer the most generous benefits with monthly plans that offer lots (sometimes even unlimited) of free monthly talk minutes, text messages, and high-speed data, as well as advanced smartphones from the top brands.
- After selecting the plan, you will be redirected to the company’s online application form. Fill it out by providing all the required information and digital documentation copies. Make sure that all information matches the information you have provided during your National Verifier application, as they may compare the two forms and any irregularities may result in your application being rejected.
What Benefits Do You Get if You Qualify for a Free Government Phone Program
If you qualify for the free government phone program, you may be able to receive a variety of amazing benefits. Depending on whether you apply for the Lifeline program only or for both Lifeline and ACP, you can expect to receive:
- Discounted or free phone, wireless, or internet services with a certain amount of free monthly talk minutes, text messages, and data.
- A discounted or free phone (basic or mid-range Android phone).
Lifeline and ACP Benefits:
- Free phone, wireless, and internet services with more (even unlimited) monthly talk minutes, text messages, and data.
- A free advanced smartphone from one of the top brands.
- Certain companies also offer highly discounted tablets for their ACP customers.
How to Find a Free Government Phone Program Provider in Your State
Finding a free government phone program provider in your state is simple thanks to the government’s convenient online search tool. All you need to do is to:
- Visit cnm.universalservice.org.
- Enter your location.
- Choose the program (Lifeline or ACP).
- Press Search.
- Review the list of all the providing companies in your area and note which ones offer devices on the side.
- Then, visit each company’s website to compare their offers.
Top 10 Best Free Government Phone Program Providers in Your State
If the answer to the question ‘What is the best free government phone program’ is Lifeline (especially in combination with the ACP), the answer to ‘What is the best free government phone program provider’ is more complicated, as it depends on each customer’s preferences and needs.
Each Lifeline (and ACP) company has a slightly different offer. While some offer better network coverage, others prioritize the number of monthly minutes or data, and certain companies offer better mobile devices. Depending on what you value most, you can judge what is the best free government phone program provider. Generally, some of the best Lifeline and ACP companies include:
The program provider offers free smartphones, as well as free monthly service plans with unlimited talk, text, and data.
Begin your application process at accesswireless.com.
This program provider offers free monthly service plans and devices in many US states. Eligible customers can apply for a plan with free high-speed data, talk, and text, a free smartphone (this company even allows you to select the model, choosing from a variety of Samsung and Motorola phones, as well as iPhones), and a highly discounted tablet.
Enroll and learn more at airtalkwireless.com.
This is T-Mobile’s Lifeline and ACP company. It offers free monthly services with unlimited talk and text, up to 25GB of high-speed data, and 2.5GB of mobile hotspot data, as well as a free smartphone. You can receive a Motorola, Revvl, Schok, or Wiko phone, or another phone model.
Apply at assurancewireless.com.
Cintex offers qualifying customers free monthly plans with high-speed data, talk minutes, and text messages, highly discounted ACP tablets, and free phones (basic or smartphones).
Sign up at cintexwireless.com.
Easy Wireless offers free government smartphone services with unlimited talk, text, data, and hotspot, and a free smartphone. You can expect to receive a mid-range Android device. Plus, you can receive an 8-inch tablet for only $10.99.
Eligible enTouch customers from 34 states can apply for a free plan with unlimited talk, text, and data, free international calling, and no hidden fees. They can also receive a brand new free Android smartphone.
Start your application journey at entouchwireless.com.
This government phone program offers free cell phone service with unlimited talk, text, and data, 5GB of hotspot, and a free smartphone.
You can apply now at lifewireless.com.
NewPhone is another generous Lifeline and ACP company – one that offers free services with unlimited talk, text, and data, highly discounted tablets, and a free phone of your own choice (you can choose from a variety of high-quality flip phones, Android smartphones, and iPhones).
Enroll today at newphone.com.
This program provider also offers free smartphones, discounted ACP tablets, and free monthly service plans with unlimited talk, text, and data on a nationwide network.
Find out more and sign up at standupwireless.com.
Finally, TruConnect offers high-speed data, unlimited talk and text, plus a free Android smartphone at no cost. ACP subscribers will also have the option to buy a tablet for only $10.01.
Start your application process at truconnect.com.
Top 10 Best Free Government Phones in 2023
Most Lifeline and ACP companies don’t reveal which phone models they offer in advance, as the offer depends on the location, plan, and availability. These companies usually offer mid-range Android smartphones. Nevertheless, there are a few program providers that allow customers to select the phone. Currently, the top 10 best free government phones include:
- Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
- Apple iPhone 8
- Motorola Moto Z4
- Apple iPhone 7 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy A51
- Alcatel Revvl 5G
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8
- OnePlus 7T
- LG V50 ThinQ 5G
- Google Pixel 4 XL
Free Government Phone Program Limitations
From everything you’ve heard applying for one of the best free government phone program providers may sound simple and amazing. However, you must also know that the government phone program comes with certain rules and limitations, including:
- You can only get benefits from one program provider at a time.
- Only one Lifeline and ACP benefit is available per eligible household.
- Only eligible customers can apply.
- You must recertify every year to continue receiving the benefits.
- You must notify the provider within 30 days if you no longer qualify.
- You must use your benefits at least once every 30 days to continue receiving them.
Do You Qualify for a Free Government Phone With the Lifeline Program?
If you qualify for Lifeline (and ACP), you should be able to get a free phone. See the eligibility criteria above.
Can I Bring My Own Phone to Lifeline?
Yes, most companies allow you to do so.
What is the Federal Lifeline Assistance Program?
It is a government assistance program that offers discounts on phone, wireless, or internet services and cell phones.
Are the Free Phones and Free Cell Phone Service Plans Any Good?
Yes, some free plans come with unlimited monthly talk, text, and data, and the devices are from the top brands, even though they are not the most recent models.
What if You Need More Minutes or Data?
Most Lifeline and ACP program providers allow customers to add minutes or data.
What if You Need Another Line of Service?
Only one Lifeline and ACP benefit is available per household.