Free phones and low-cost cellular phone plans are available to qualifying low-income families and households through the federal program Lifeline.
Established in 1985, Lifeline is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) in order to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities and security that having a phone service provides, regardless of income.
Over the years, the Lifeline program has evolved from standard landline phone services to include cellular services and broadband internet services.
By providing free touch screen government phones and discounts on cellular phone plans, a number of benefits are provided, including the ability to connect with jobs, family and emergency services when needed. The program is available to all qualifying low-income consumers throughout the United States, U.S. territories and on Tribal lands.
A number of free phones, including the ZTE z3001 s and other low-cost smartphones, are offered by carriers participating in the Lifeline program. By law, cell phones that are provided by carriers must be a Wi-Fi enabled device that has hotspot functionality.
A number of carriers participate in the Lifeline program, including SafeLink and Verizon. SafeLink minutes and other minute-based plans will permit users to use a certain amount of plans per month. By law, participating carriers must provide at least 1,000 minutes as well as at least 2G of data as of December 1st, 2018.
The Lifeline program currently provides a voice support discount of at least $9.25 per month off of eligible cellular phone service plans. For some, this discount amount may amount to free service, depending on plan costs. If you qualify for Lifeline and live on tribal lands, you may qualify for tribal Lifeline, in which an additional $25 discount can be applied to your phone service.
Only one free phone and discounted service can be provided per household through Lifeline. If your household already receives a Lifeline discount on broadband internet services, your household will not be eligible for an additional discount towards cellular services.
To receive free phones and discounted phone services, you must meet Lifeline eligibility requirements. Eligibility requirements are primarily income based as you can only qualify for Lifeline if your income is at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
You will automatically qualify for a free touch screen government phone and a discount on your cellular phone service if you or your dependent child currently participate in a qualifying federal or state program such as:
If you qualify based upon participation in a federal or state program, you must be able to provide proof of participation, such as with a card, letter or other official document. If you do not currently participate in one of these programs, you must be able to provide proof of your income in order for your eligibility to be verified.
You must apply for a free phone and Lifeline cellular service discount by contacting a participating carrier directly. Participating carriers include, but are not limited to:
While free phones are not always available through larger providers, these providers participate in the Lifeline program and provide discounts on phone services for qualifying customers:
You can apply for discounted services free phones online through certain providers. Otherwise, you may need to contact a provider over the phone or in person in order to enroll in the Lifeline program.
Once you have selected the cell phone carrier that you would like to receive your Lifeline discounts through, you will need to complete a Lifeline application with that carrier. Information that must be provided in order to complete an application includes your:
To qualify for a free phone and/or discount on your cell phone plan, you must also be able to provide proof of identity, such as with an unexpired ID or driver’s license or your Social Security card. Lastly, you must either provide proof of your income or proof of participation in a qualifying state or federal program.