Lifeline program helps connect every American citizen by phone

Sep 18, 2014

Access to a working phone is critical during times of emergency. The Federal Communications Commission worked to address this issue in 1985 by founding the Lifeline program.

The initiative still subsidizes phone service for low-income families, and since 2005 has helped participants to acquire pre-paid mobile phones as well. The program is available in each state, commonwealth, territory and Tribal reservations. Families in dire need of a phone may be able to resolve their communication problems by applying for support from Lifeline.

Program goals

The security and convenience of telephone access is integral to the daily life of most Americans. Parents utilize phones to take care of their kids, while business owners need phone service to communicate with clients.

Citizens injured by an accident or under duress of criminal activity are also put in grave danger without access to basic phone service. The Lifeline program prevents these scenarios by making affordable phone service available to those citizens with the greatest needs. The Wall Street Journal reports that this and other communications initiatives cost American families just $2.50 per month.

Participant qualifications

For several years the Lifeline program allowed participants to self-certify their low-income status. This policy was updated in 2013 once the FCC confirmed that over 40 percent of program subscribers had misreported their annual income.

Today, participants must be able to show documentation proving that their household falls below 135 percent of the poverty line. Potential Lifeline subscribers must also prove membership in a governmental assistance program like Medicaid, Federal Public House Assistance and Head Start. The FCC also notes that only one Lifeline phone is allowed per household.

Low-income families without phone service are likely to qualify for Lifeline. Most phone service providers across the nation, both landline and mobile, participate in the program. The total amount of low-income households with working phone service is currently 92 percent, a 12 percent increase since the program was originally established.