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How Lifeline Cell Phone Providers Help Low-Income Families Stay Connected

Many families need reliable wireless phones and broadband service to complete their day’s tasks. These services are critical for obtaining information, communicating with family, applying for jobs, and more.

If your household meets income and program eligibility guidelines, you may qualify for free cellular phone service through Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program. These programs are available from a variety of national and regional providers.

Eligibility

The government assistance program Lifeline offers monthly phone service discounts to low-income people. The goal is to make it simpler for families to benefit from the advantages and security that phone service may offer. The program, which is offered in all states, territories, commonwealths, and tribal territories, is funded by the Universal Service Fund. The program’s qualifying conditions are based on 135% of the federal poverty level. A copy of the applicant’s income documentation is required. False comments made with the purpose of deception may result in penalties, including fines and jail time, as well as expulsion from the program.

Each Lifeline cell phone provider offers different plans and services; some even offer free phones. To find out more about Lifeline, visit the official website.

Eligibility for Lifeline is based on household income, assets, and needs. The program is designed to serve low-income families and keep them connected and emergency services. To qualify, you must have a valid state-issued identification and provide documentation of your financial status. The documents the provider accepts vary but typically include a recent pay stub, utility bill, and social security card. In addition, you must provide a signed letter or form of verification from an eligible government assistance program.

In addition to Lifeline, the Federal Communications Commission offers eligible households the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). ACP is a new, long-term, 14-billion-dollar program connecting low-income Americans. It is a replacement for the Eligible Broadband Benefit program (EBB).

Your family’s income must be at or below 135% of the federal poverty threshold to be eligible for ACP. There must be at least one telecom device and a broadband connection. 

Requirements

Wireless phone service is essential for maintaining contact with family and friends, paying bills, getting information about emergency services, and more. However, it can be difficult for low-income families to afford the cost of this service. That is why the federal government offers a free cell phone and affordable wireless internet plan through the Lifeline Assistance program. The program is funded through the Universal Service Fund, supported by a fee on all telephone bills. In 2016, Lifeline disbursed about $1.5 billion to help low-income households.

Households who qualify can select the Lifeline provider that is best for them. Enter your zip code on each provider’s website to learn whether carriers in your neighborhood provide Lifeline phones. While some providers need you to provide documentation of your income and assets, others feature a “Apply Now” option on their websites. Paystubs or a letter from your state’s aid program might indicate income.

Many Lifeline cell phone providers serve specific states, and each one offers different plans. Each carrier has rules and regulations, so read them carefully before choosing. Additionally, remember that only one Lifeline discount is available per household. Violating this rule could result in denying the discount or even criminal prosecution.

Benefits

If you’re a low-income household, having access to affordable communications services can help you stay connected to friends and family, ensure your children attend school, and take care of business. Whether you need phone and broadband service, or a free cell phone, Lifeline can help. Knowing which service providers participate in the program and which offers the best plans is important.

Three major national wireless carriers offer the service, as well as some regional companies. They provide:

  • A free smartphone.
  • Monthly minutes for qualified households.
  • Discounts on landline service and internet connections.

The program is available in nearly 40 states, with more states coming online rapidly.

You must be a part of an economic unit and have an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty level to be eligible for Lifeline. To be eligible for a service discount, you must also participate in one or more approved government programs. Food Stamps/SNAP, Section 8 housing assistance, SSI, Medicaid, and the SCHIP benefit are among the programs that qualify. According to the qualifying requirements, a single service provider is allowed per home.

When you sign up for Lifeline, the service provider will ask you to verify your eligibility by providing proof of participation in an eligible program or documenting your household income. You can check out the Documents Needed page on the Lifeline website to find the correct information for your specific case. You may also have to recertify each year. The service provider will contact you by mail or pre-recorded messages on your phone to recertify.

Costs

It’s virtually only possible to accomplish many of the most basic tasks in life with reliable access to phone and internet service. There are countless reasons to stay connected, from calling a doctor, searching for a job, communicating with family and friends, and even preparing for a pandemic. Fortunately, two federal programs provide broadband internet and wireless data service discounts for low-income families and individuals.

These initiatives are part of a bigger initiative to lower phone and internet access costs for low-income Americans. The Universal Service Administrative Company supports them, and the Universal Service Fund manages them. This agency is responsible for data collection and maintenance, support calculation, and disburse the program’s benefits. Both Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program are free to eligible households. However, each household is only allowed one discount from each program. 

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