You can qualify for a free smartphone, as well as discounts on cellular or internet services if you are part of a low-income household.
Since 1985, Lifeline has assisted low-income customers with the cost of phone service.
In doing so, the program has ensured that these customers have access to the opportunities that phone services can bring, regardless of income level.
While the goal of the Lifeline program is still the same, advancement in technologies have changed the way that these opportunities are presented.
In addition, Lifeline cell phone providers vary by service area. Some providers offer both cell phones and discounted services while other providers may only offer discounted cellular, landline or internet services.
Therefore, it is important to learn as much about the program as you can before you apply.
1. How Free Government Cell Phones Are Provided Through Lifeline
The free smartphone program, commonly referred to as the “Obama phone” program actually has nothing to do with President Obama.
The Lifeline program, which has been in operation since 1985, has provided free government cell phones for years in addition to service-related benefits.
Administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), Lifeline was established to provide low-income households with the same opportunities afforded to higher-income households.
The program was designed to provide low-income households with access to landline phone services for a greater connection to employment, family and emergency services.
To continue to provide the same opportunities to low-income households, Lifeline now provides additional benefits outside of landline phone services.
Since the program began, these opportunities have been extended to cellular and even internet services.
2. Learn About Lifeline Benefits Outside of Free Government Cell Phones for Low Income
While free government smartphones are one of the highlights of Lifeline, the program provides several other notable benefits.
Lifeline enrollees receive a discount of $9.25 each month off of one of three services:
- Landline phone services.
- Cellular phone services.
- Internet services.
Lifeline participants may only receive assistance with one service per household, even if the household has more than one of these services within their home.
Lifeline defines a “household” as any group of people that reside at one address, regardless of family composition.
If a household is found to have more than one discounted service at a time, civil penalties can occur.
3. Find Out the Lifeline Requirements
Lifeline cell phones and discount services are only available to low-income households.
This means that applicants must have annual income levels of 135 percent or less than the current federal poverty guidelines.
You will automatically meet income-based eligibility requirements if you are currently receiving benefits from other assistance programs. These include:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- The Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8.
When applying for a free smartphone or discounted service, you will need to provide proof of your enrollment in a qualifying assistance program or provide evidence of your income.
You can provide proof of income in several ways, such as with your last three pay stubs or your most recent tax return.
4 Rules for Obtaining a Lifeline Cell Phone and Discounted Service Plan
After obtaining a free government smartphone, you will have your choice of three discounted services.
If you are no longer eligible for Lifeline, you must contact your provider immediately to have the Lifeline discount removed from your select service.
Therefore, you are required to report any change in income within 30 days.
To retain Lifeline discounts, you must recertify your eligibility status on an annual basis.
This means that each year, you will need to provide proof of income or proof of enrollment in a qualifying federal or state assistance program.
As stated previously, Lifeline can only provide one discount per household. If multiple discounts are found, enrollees may be disqualified from Lifeline and could face civil penalties.
5. How to Find Lifeline Cell Phone Providers Near You
Free government cell phones for low income households are available through select Lifeline providers.
Depending on the area you live in, you may have several potential providers available to you.
These providers may offer a combination of free smartphones, Lifeline internet discounts, Lifeline cellular service discounts or Lifeline landline phone discounts.
Therefore, it is important to review each one in order to select the provider that will give you the best benefits for your household.
You can search for Lifeline service providers within your area online or by calling the Lifeline Support Center at (800) 234-9473 to discuss your Lifeline options with a representative.