Companies that offer free cell phones include Assurance, SafeLink, Budget Mobile, American Assistance and ReachOut, All mobile companies offering free phones are a part of the Lifeline program, a government benefit which provides mobile service for low-income families and individuals. Lifeline is backed by the federal Universal Service Fund.
Lifeline mobile carrier service areas vary throughout the U.S, though most carriers provide service in multiple states. The Lifeline program allows one free phone per household. Those with a Lifeline phone are allotted up to 250 free minutes per month, and a set amount of free texts as well. Service plans vary from carrier to carrier. After free minutes have been depleted, customers may choose to add more minutes to their phone for a reduced fee.
Applicants must receive certain types of welfare assistance in order to qualify for a Lifeline phone, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid or TANF. Though lifeline has specific federally-mandated qualification criteria, some states add additional requirements. The application process varies from carrier to carrier.
Lifeline phones operate on different mobile networks from carrier to carrier. Assurance Wireless operates on the Virgin Mobile network. Access Wireless uses the Sprint Network. Lifeline customers may check with their device's carrier to determine the mobile network they utilize.