The recession has placed significant financial strain on millions of people throughout America. Because of this economic strain, many people struggle to afford the monthly cost of a cell phone contract or a prepaid plan. Cell phones can be necessary for a variety of circumstances including medical emergencies, family emergencies, or job opportunities.
Fortunately, the federal government has created a program - the Lifeline Assistance Program - that provides low-income individuals with government issued cell phones.
Millions of struggling Americans utilize these no-cost government cell phones. These free phones are sometimes referred to as "Obama phones" which is somewhat incorrect considering the program was started over a decade ago by the United States government. The Lifeline program is funded by money gathered through a Universal Service fund that charges a fee to individuals who are able to pay for regular cell phone contracts.
What Type of Cell Phone and Service Does Lifeline Cell Service Provide?
In some cases, individuals are eligible to receive fully functional smartphones from the government. Additionally, qualified applicants can receive free talk time - up to 250 minutes - each month. Companies such as SafeLink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, and ReachOut Wireless provide service for Lifeline.
How do you Qualify to Obtain a Free Government Cell Phone?
To be eligible to receive a free cell phone from the Lifeline program, an individual must already be participating in another government assistance program such as Medicaid, public housing assistance, food stamps, or other government aid programs. Another way to be eligible for a free cell phone is by proving that your household income is 135% lower than the Federal Poverty Guidelines. It is essential to remember that residences are limited to one free phone per household. Also, individuals must reside in the United States and have a current United States mailing address.
What is the Lifeline Program for Low-Income Individuals?
The Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone service for eligible, low-income individuals since 1985. This program, part of the Universal Service Fund, is meant to guarantee that all Americans have access to the security and opportunities - employment connections, emergency situations - that phone service provides. The free cell phone program is offered to qualified low-income individuals in all states, territories, and Tribal lands.
The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) administers the Lifeline program. USAC handles a variety of responsibilities for the program including support calculation, disbursement of funds, and support calculation. Program requirements and additional information can be found on the USAC website.
As of March 31, 2016, the Commission completed an overhaul of the Lifeline program. One of the main changes was including broadband as a support service. The Commission determined minimum service standards for Lifeline-supported services in order to guarantee the maximum value for the universal service dollar.
How do I Find out if I Qualify For Lifeline Cell Service?
The Lifeline cell phone program is a federally run assistance program that provides eligible households with a monthly benefit that helps cover wireless phone and broadband service.
The Lifeline program helps individuals by lowering or eliminating the cost of monthly phone or internet bills. Only one benefit - either phone service (wireless or home) or internet (mobile or home) - is offered per household. If you are qualified, you can apply through a participating cell phone provider near your residence. You can qualify for the program in two ways:
1. Income - You may qualify for a Lifeline Program benefit if the total income of your household is at or below 135 percent of the guidelines set for federal poverty. You can determine if your income meets the federal poverty guidelines by checking the eligibility chart provided by the USAC. If your household income meets the amount listed based on the size and location of your home, you may qualify for a Lifeline benefit.
2. Program-Based Eligibility - If you are already participating in another government aid program, you may also be eligible for a free phone through the Lifeline program. Examples of qualified government aid programs include SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly referred to as Food Stamps), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) or Section 8, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, and Tribal Programs (and reside on federally recognized Tribal lands).
Important note: As of December 2, 2016, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or the NSLP free lunch program no longer prove an individual's eligibility for Lifeline.
One Benefit per Household
The program only provides one Lifeline benefit per household - either a cell phone data plan, wireless or landline telephone, or home internet. A "household" is defined as anyone residing at an address (including any children, relatives, and other people whether they are related to you or not) that share income and home expenses.
A household worksheet helps determine the exact number of individuals that reside at a residence. This worksheet is required to be completed by any new customers that are applying for a Lifeline Program benefit at a residence where a benefit is already being provided.
Tribal Lifeline Program
You may qualify for an extra $25 each month and the Tribal Link Up benefit if you are currently participating in one of the following programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
Any federally recognized Indian tribe's reservation, Pueblo, or colony, including former reservations in Oklahoma, Alaska Native regions, Hawaiian Home Lands, or Indian Allotments qualifies as tribal land.
How to Apply for Lifeline Cell Service
To apply to receive a free government issued cell phone, Click here to apply now. It is not recommended to contact the USAC to try applying for the benefit.
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