How Do I Qualify for a Free Government Cell Phone?
If you have low income, or you have Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI, Section 8, Energy Assistance, or the School Lunch Program, then you may qualify.
The Federal Communications Commission launched the Federal Lifeline Assistance Program in the 1980s. The goal was to help low-income Americans stay connected by offering discounts on landlines. Now that cell phones have replaced landlines in most households, the program has partnered with several approved companies to provide free government cell phones with free monthly minutes, data, and texting to low-income families so that they can keep in touch with life-savers like emergency services, medical services, schools and libraries.
With millions of qualified people participating in this program, it seems to be one of the most successful government benefit programs ever. However, there are certain criteria which you need to fulfill in order to be eligible for this program so that you can receive your free cell phone and free monthly minutes.
So how do you know if you qualify for this government assistance program? You can either click the red button below to check your eligibility with a Lifeline provider in your area now, or you can continue reading this helpful guide about Lifeline qualifications before applying.
The criteria for Lifeline may vary a little depending on the state you live in. The private cell phone companies that are approved to provide Lifeline are the ones who verify your personal information. They are also the ones who send out the free phones and manage your Lifeline account.
However, since Lifeline is a government-regulated program, many of the eligibility requirements are applicable regardless of the state you live in.
If you currently participate in a federal government assistance program such as Food Stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, SSI, Section 8, and most other government programs, then you automatically qualify for Lifeline Assistance in all states because you have already confirmed your low income when you originally applied for these programs. Some states have their own state-specific assistance programs which may also qualify you for the Lifeline Assistance program.
If you do not participate in a government assistance program, you may qualify based on your low income status; however, income level guidelines differ for each state. Some states allow you to make up to 135% of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines, while others have specific low income requirements set in place. Also you should understand that some states have higher and lower income levels, and your income level will vary depending on household size. Please refer to the chart in this article below to better understand the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Let’s discuss the two ways you may qualify for a free government cell phone and service: Qualify by Government Assistance, or Qualify by Low Income.
1. Qualify for Lifeline by Participating in a State or Government Assistance Program
A large percentage of people, specially senior citizens, will qualify for Lifeline government cell phone and service by participating in a state or government assistance program. Since you participate in one of these programs, you may also require other financial assistance. In order to prove you qualify by participating in a state or government assistance program, you will need to submit a copy of your approval letter, ID card, or something else showing you currently participate in one of the qualifying programs.
Although state and government assistance programs vary by state, here are the most common programs found in all states:
- Food Stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
- National School Lunch Program (Free Lunch Program Only)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
- Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Most Other Government Assistance Programs (varies by state)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
Please remember: every state has their own state-specific assistance programs. You may qualify if you participate in one of these. If you do not see the program you participate in above, for example those who receive disability, please check with your state. You may still qualify by participating in a state or government assistance program.
If you do not participate in a state or government assistance program, then you may qualify for Lifeline assistance if you have low income (see below).
2. Qualify for Lifeline by Having a Low Total Household Income
Although you may not qualify for Lifeline by participating in a government assistance program, you may still qualify for a free government cell phone and service if you have a low total household income. Don’t worry, it is fast and easy to qualify by low income.
All you have to do is prove that your total household income is at or below your state’s Federal Poverty Guidelines (see the income qualifications below). Please understand that total household income includes all of your household size (including dependents). It also includes you and your dependents’ income (taxable and non-taxable), such as: salary, wages, interest, spousal and child support, dividends, allowances, grants, gifts, social security, pensions, rental income, inheritances, lottery winnings, and all other income.
Student aid, allowances, military housing, and small cash jobs are not included in the total household income.
You may qualify for a free government cell phone if you meet the Federal Poverty Guidelines for your state. In addition, in order to qualify for a free government cell phone and free monthly minutes, data, and texting, you must have a valid U.S. mailing address (sorry, no PO boxes). There are also a couple specific Lifeline restrictions:
- Only one Lifeline service account is allowed per household.
- Households may not have a Lifeline cell phone from more than one Lifeline service providers.
- The Lifeline service is non-transferable.
(i) the service is a Lifeline service; (ii) Lifeline is a government assistance program; (iii) the service may not be transferred to someone else; (iv) consumers must meet certain eligibility requirements before enrolling in the Lifeline program; (v) the Lifeline program permits only one Lifeline discount per household; (vi) documentation is necessary for enrollment; and (vii) Q LINK is the provider of the services.