Free Phone for Low Income Families: What is the Lifeline Program?
It’s no secret that times have been tough for many as the pandemic has taken its toll. Throughout the US, household budgets are feeling the squeeze as people from every walk of life find themselves in need of support and assistance.
If you’re looking for a free phone for low income families, we’ve got good news: you may be able to get a brand new smartphone on its way to you fast if you qualify.
Read on to learn more about free smartphones for low income families.
It’s a Fact: A Phone is A Necessity
Everyone knows that it’s almost impossible to navigate modern society without a phone. From education to employment to keeping in touch with friends and family, connectivity is an essential and even life-saving service.
For many people, our phones are also our source of entertainment, community, and opportunity. Whether we are taking classes online, keeping in touch on social media, or using a phone’s calendar feature to stay on top of important information like doctor’s appointments, sometimes it can seem like our whole life is stored in our pocket or bag.
But what about those among us who cannot access a wireless phone or service due to the expense involved? Doesn’t everyone have the same right to access critical information and resources, regardless of income?
Luckily, the federal government answers this question with a yes.
What is The Lifeline Program?
Lifeline is a federal program that helps subsidize access to free or heavily discounted communication services. Lifeline is designed to make connectivity available to Americans who may not otherwise be able to afford the cost of these services.
Federal law requires telecommunication providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund that in turn administers and pays for the Lifeline program.
Established in 1985, the program began with home phone access but was expanded over time as needs changed. In 2016, Lifeline was updated to add data services, enabling low income citizens to access the internet in addition to receiving voice and texting services.
Today the Lifeline government benefit program allows qualifying low income Americans to get phone and internet services for free or at discounted rates. Qualifying individuals who enroll in Lifeline with a participating provider will typically receive minutes, text, and data, and may also receive additional offers such as a free phone from some providers.
Lifeline is available in all fifty states, all United States territories, and on Tribal lands.
How Do I Qualify for The Lifeline Program?
If you already qualify for other federal benefit programs such as SNAP or Medicaid, you probably also qualify for Lifeline. Other qualifying programs include Social Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance, and veterans’ pension and survivor benefit programs.
You may also qualify based on your income level. Families making 135% or less of the federal poverty guidelines may qualify for the Lifeline program.
The only reliable way to confirm qualification, however, is to apply. To do that, you will need to choose a Lifeline provider.
The Universal Service Administrative Co. has developed a tool that will find verified Lifeline service program providers in your area. Click here to search for approved providers by zip code or city and state.
Not all providers are available in all areas, so check to be sure the provider you choose offers service in your area.
You can apply for the Lifeline program with any approved Lifeline provider that serves the area where you live. The company you choose to apply with will be the one providing your service, so you may want to take a look at a few websites and see which one feels like the best fit for you.
Some of these providers may offer a free phone with new Lifeline service. Others may offer free service when you bring your own phone, while still other providers may offer a choice between these options.
You may only have one Lifeline account with one provider, so choose carefully!
The Lifeline Application Process: How it Works, What to Expect
No matter which provider you choose, you will go through a very similar application experience.
Before you begin filling out any application, be sure to confirm on the website you are on that you are applying for the official Lifeline program.
Pro tip: You will save yourself time and aggravation if you pull together the information and documents you need in order to complete the application before you start filling it out.
To complete a Lifeline application, you will need the following:
- Proof of identification such as a state ID card or driver’s license
- Proof of eligibility such as a letter or program card from a qualifying federal program such as SNAP
- A valid email address (set one up for free at Yahoo or Google)
- A valid mailing address where you can receive delivery
When you apply online, you will fill out your information field by field and upload your documents. This can take some time but try to be as complete and accurate as you can on the application, otherwise the system may not be able to process your information.
When your application is ready to be processed, it will be sent to the USAC’s National Verifier for processing. The National Verifier is the federal system that verifies the eligibility of Lifeline applicants.
Once your application is complete, keep an eye on your email. Depending on the results of your application, the provider you applied with will send follow-up information that may include a request for additional documents, an approval, shipping information, or other response to your application.
If your application was successful and you chose a Lifeline provider that is offering a free phone, that phone will be on its way to you soon!
When you receive your free phone, follow the instructions in the box and/or in your email to activate your device.
Once you’ve gotten started with your free phone, remember that you will need to maintain your account in order to keep your service active. This account maintenance includes using your phone and service every 30 days, checking your email, and updating certain information with your provider when asked.