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Qualifying for Free and/or Discount Government Phones

Updated on August 18, 2011

Through the Link-Up and Lifeline programs, the US government helps low income individuals to obtain and maintain telephone service.

In 1996 as part of the Telecommunications Act the Universal Services Administration Company (USAC) was created. The goal was to ensure that all Americans had access to affordable telephone service. Initially the Lifeline/Link-Up services applied to home telephone land lines. However, as technology progressed, the program was expanded to include wireless phone service.

Home Phone Line
Home Phone Line | Source

Free Government Phones

Currently, the three major players in the free government phone programs are Assurance Wireless, SafeLink Wireless and ReachOut Wireless. Along with providing free cell phones, these carriers provide free airtime units. 

Although these carriers are approved by the federal government to provide free phone services, they are not approved by each state. States have the final say as to whether or not they will allow these providers to offer free government phones to low-income individuals in their jurisdiction. The list of state participation is growing so if they're not currently available in your state, it might be a matter of time before they are given state approval.

Discounted Phone Service

In addition to free phones, the Lifeline program provides discounted home phone service to those who qualify. The sister program, Link-Up, helps to offset the initial installation and/or activation cost for home phone service. Link-Up will take care of 50% of the initial installation costs (up to a maximum of $30 in most states).

The discount offered by the phone companies vary from state to state and from phone company to phone company. To find out how much of a discount your state/phone company offers, visit the USAC website. The USAC has a state map which makes it easy to locate the service providers to see how much of a discount your phone company offers.

If your phone company is not listed on the USAC website, it doesn't mean that your company doesn't participate in the Lifeline program. Call your phone company and ask about the Lifeline discount.

Free Cell Phone
Free Cell Phone | Source

Qualifying for Free/Discounted Government Phone Service

To qualify for free or discounted phone service you must participate in one of the several free government assistance programs or have a household income at or below a certain percentage of the poverty federal poverty guidelines. The qualifying government assistance programs vary by state.  The programs include but are not limited to: Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • Section 8 Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Food Stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The household income requirement is state dependent.  It can be anywhere from 135% to 150% of the federal poverty guidelines.  Visit   for more information on state specific qualification information.

Application Procedure

For discounted home phone service you can either download the application from the USAC website or contact your phone company directly.  If you wish to apply for the free government phones as offered by the three carriers mentioned above, you must apply directly using the carrier's online application.
After you complete and submit the application it may takes several weeks for processing. You will be notified upon approval. In the meanwhile, continue to make regular payments on your current phone service. Please note that only one Lifeline service is allowed per household.  Therefore one household may not participate in the free and discounted phone service simultaneously. 


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