The FCC has temporarily loosened the requirements for documentation consumers need to prove their income-based eligibility.
Government-assisted telephone service is available to families on specific state and federal programs, including SNAP food benefits, Medicaid, HEAP, or Section 8.
What is Lifeline?
The Federal Communications Commission created the Lifeline program to help make phone and broadband services more affordable for low-income households. Contributions from telecommunications carriers support the program. Lifeline subscribers receive a monthly discount for a voice or broadband service or a bundled voice/broadband package. This discount can cover up to $9.25 in monthly support for standard Lifeline and up to $75 per month for Tribal Lifeline.
The program leverages other government assistance programs to establish eligibility for phone and broadband subsidies. To qualify, individuals must have participated in one of the following programs: Food Stamps (SNAP), SSI, Medicaid, Section 8 Federal Public Housing Assistance or Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit; BIA General Assistance on Indian Reservations; Head Start; or TANF. The program also supports households with incomes at or below 135% of the poverty guidelines.
To enroll in the program, consumers must apply through Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The agency guides consumers through the application and eligibility process. It is also responsible for recertifying subscribers and managing the Lifeline Support Center.
Consumers need to know that their Lifeline subsidy is non-transferable. Those who violate this rule risk losing their Lifeline benefits. They may also be subject to criminal penalties and fines.
Who is Eligible for Lifeline?
The Lifeline program is designed to help low-income households afford 21st-century connectivity services, including home phone, broadband Internet, and bundled voice broadband packages. Eligibility is based on income, and each household can receive one Lifeline discount (wireless or landline) per telephone line or internet service provider.
To qualify for Lifeline, your gross household income must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. You can find the current guidelines by visiting the National Verifier website, and you will need to provide documentation that proves your household meets these Lifeline program qualifications. Some common examples of accepted documentation include your Social Security Number, a valid state-issued photo ID, proof of your address, and a pay stub.
You can use your Lifeline benefits to get discounted broadband Internet service from many providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. Talk to your internet service provider or visit the ACP website to learn more.
You can also apply for both Lifeline and the ACP simultaneously. However, your eligibility for both programs will need to be recertified annually. If USAC determines that you no longer qualify for the program, your monthly bill may increase, or the services you receive for free will be terminated within 30 days. To avoid any interruptions in service, be sure to complete the recertification process on time.
How do I apply for Lifeline?
The Lifeline program discounts qualifying monthly telephone, broadband Internet, or bundled voice-broadband services offered by participating wireline and wireless service providers. The service provider then pays the Lifeline benefit directly to the subscriber, lowering the bill. Income and involvement in particular government assistance programs determine eligibility. Subscribers must recertify annually (documentation may be required). Only one Lifeline support benefit is available per household. Subscribers can receive a Lifeline discount on either home or wireless services, but not both.
To qualify for the Lifeline program, you must complete an application made available through your phone or internet service provider, online, or at your local public assistance office. You will be required to produce paperwork proving your identity, including your name, address, phone number, and evidence of income or enrollment in a qualified program, for us to verify your eligibility. The Lifeline website lists accepted documents to help you determine if you qualify.
Suppose you are already in a low-income program with your internet service provider or live on federally recognized tribal lands. In that case, you can skip the USAC application process and apply to your internet company’s low-income discount program. Your provider can also tell you which of their other internet plans qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program. The ACP program is not part of the Lifeline program but provides a different discount and installation assistance for low-income households.
What Type of Phone Can I Get With Lifeline?
Cell phone service is essential for maintaining contact with family and friends, obtaining employment opportunities, and gaining access to emergency services. Unfortunately, many families are unable to afford wireless services. This is where the Lifeline Program comes in. The federal government offers free wireless phones and monthly plans to eligible low-income households.
The Universal Service Fund funds the program, which all telecommunications carriers must contribute. The FCC oversees the Universal Service Fund, and the non-profit Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) administers the Lifeline program according to its rules and regulations.
If you’re interested in getting a Lifeline phone, check out the list of providers that offer it. You’ll be able to find all of the latest smartphones available and see which ones are compatible with the Lifeline plan you want. Remember that your chosen carrier will determine which phones are available.
One important thing to remember is that you can only receive one Lifeline discount per household. This rule applies to wireline and wireless connections, broadband Internet access services, and voice-broadband bundles.