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Created in 1985 to help make telephone service more affordable for low-income Americans, Lifeline is one the government’s oldest subsidies for cellphone and internet service. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to apply for it, where to find providers that participate in Lifeline and other ways to save on phone and internet plans.
What is Lifeline?
The Lifeline program provides a discount of $9.25/mo. for low-income households, or $34.25/mo. for people on Tribal lands. You can use the subsidy on a landline, a cellphone plan, home internet service or even an internet and phone bundle. Only one discount can be applied for each household.
Who qualifies for Lifeline?
To participate in Lifeline, your income must be at or below 135% of federal poverty guidelines, which are listed in the table below. You’re also eligible if you participate in other federal assistance programs like Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be eligible.
|Household size||48 contiguous states, DC and territories||Alaska||Hawaii|
|For each additional person, add||$6,129||$7,668||$7,047|
Lifeline subscribers typically have to re-certify their eligibility every year to continue receiving the benefit, but this requirement is currently suspended until Sep. 30, 2021.Learn more about how to qualify for Lifeline
COVID-19 update on Lifeline services
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the FCC to make three changes to Lifeline on March 17, 2020.
- The recertification and reverification requirements of the program were waived for 60 days. That waiver is currently extended to Sep. 30, 2021.
- Lifeline administrators are also prohibited from involuntary de-enrollment under the same waiver.
- On April 29, 2020, the FCC waived the requirement for consumers to provide three consecutive months of income documentation when applying for Lifeline based on their income.
How to apply for Lifeline
Enrollment in Lifeline is available to any individual who meets the eligibility requirements as set out by federal and state guidelines. Household income is one criteria used. Eligibility can also be gained if the individual or anyone in the household is already a participant in a number of public assistance programs such as:
- SNAP, formerly known as food stamps
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Tribal programs (and live on federally-recognized Tribal lands)
Proof of income or proof of participation in the other public assistance programs may be required. Where there are separate households sharing the same address, each household is eligible. This includes the residents of nursing homes or homeless shelters. Consumers can also have eligibility with a temporary address.
You can apply for Lifeline in one of three ways:
- Apply online at the Lifeline National Verifier website. Note: California (except broadband-only consumers), Oregon and Texas don’t participate in the National Verifier database. Consumers in those states will have to apply through their state’s existing application process.
- Mail-in applications: Print an application (English or Spanish), complete it and mail to the following address with your proof of eligibility:
Lifeline Support Center
P.O. Box 7081
London, KY 40742
- Contact the phone or internet provider you’d like to use and ask them if they participate in the Lifeline program. If your provider doesn’t offer Lifeline you can use this USAC tool to find providers near you that do participate. Participating providers can help you apply for the Lifeline program.
After you apply, you’ll usually receive an approval right away from Lifeline. But in some cases, the program may ask for additional information before approving or denying your application.
Providers that participate in Lifeline
There are hundreds of nationwide wireless and broadband providers that participate in Lifeline. That includes major national carriers such as Verizon and Xfinity as well as many smaller regional or discount carriers. You can search for providers near you on the USAC website that operates the National Verifier database created by the FCC.
Be aware: the USAC search results may not be comprehensive. It is possible a company offers the Lifeline program even if it doesn’t show up on this search list. If you are interested in a specific provider, contact them directly and ask if they offer Lifeline assistance.
Other cheap cellphone options
Not everyone will qualify for the Lifeline program, but fortunately there are a number of low-cost prepaid carriers offering cellphone service and cellular devices at extremely cheap prices. Here are just a few:
- Ting – Offers 100 minutes, 100 text messages and 100 megabytes of data for just $15/mo.
- Gen Mobile – Offers 300 minutes and 1GB data for just $10/mo. Other plans available with varying amounts of talk, text and data starting at just $5/mo.
- Republic Wireless – Unlimited minutes and text messages, plus 1GB of data for $20/mo. Only available for Android devices.
- Twigby – Offers a variety of plans starting with 300 minutes of talk and unlimited texts for just $6.75/mo. Those who need some data can get a plan with 3GB of data plus unlimited talk and text for just $15/mo.
Note that cheap plans don’t necessarily mean poor service. All these providers use the networks of the three major carriers, so you should get solid service from all of them.
Other low-income internet resources
Lifeline is just one of many resources out there that can help you with your internet bill. Here are some other government programs and nonprofits to check out:
- Emergency Broadband Benefit: This program was created to keep people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides $50/mo. towards your internet or cellphone bill. It has the same eligibility requirements as Lifeline, so you’ll automatically qualify if you’re enrolled in the program.
- Low-income internet plans: A number of internet providers participate in programs for low-income households, too. You can get discounted plans from AT&T, Cox, Mediacom, Optimum, Spectrum, Suddenlink and Xfinity if you meet income requirements or participate in another government assistance program.
- Internet nonprofit organizations: There are a number of nonprofits working to address the digital divide that can supply equipment or help with your internet bill. A good place to start your search is the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which acts as a sort of hub for organizations working on the issue. We recommend checking out their Free & Low-Cost Internet page for the most up-to-date information on discounted plans available in your area.
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Written by:Joe Supan
Senior Writer, Broadband Content
Joe oversees all things broadband for Allconnect. His work has been referenced by Yahoo!, Lifehacker and more. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users navigate these … Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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