Low-income individuals and families can receive free or discounted phones and phone service through the federal Lifeline program. Consumers apply for Lifeline phone discounts by contacting a telecommunications company participating in the program.
To qualify for the Lifeline program as of 2015, subscribers must have incomes equal to or less than 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or be participants in federal programs for low-income assistance such as Supplementary Security Income, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or Federal Public Housing Assistance. Those living on tribal lands also qualify if they receive assistance from programs such as Head Start, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations or Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Each household is eligible to receive only one Lifeline service.
Applicants can go to the Lifeline support website for a Lifeline program eligibility prescreening tool and an interactive map leading to local telecommunications companies. By clicking on the state in which they reside, applicants access a list of companies participating in the program. Clicking on the name of a specific company leads to its website, where applications are submitted. Once applicants receive free or discount phone service through the Lifeline program, they must apply for recertification each year to affirm and prove their continuing eligibility.