Seniors can get free or discounted phones from the government through the federally-supported Lifeline benefit program. Eligibility for the Lifeline program is based on income. Applicants enroll through state agencies or telecommunications providers.
To qualify for the Lifeline phone program, applicants must have incomes that are 135 percent or below the federal poverty guidelines, or participate in a government assistance program such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. To enroll, applicants must provide documents such as a benefits statement from a qualifying government program, the prior year's tax returns, income statements from employers, Social Security benefits statement or other proof of income. Only one Lifeline phone discount is allowed per household. To maintain phone service, subscribers must take part in an annual re-certification to ensure that they still qualify for the benefit.
A pre-screening tool on the Lifeline website at lifelinesupport.org helps applicants determine whether they are eligible for the program. To use the tool, applicants must know their household's earned income through wages, tips and other sources as well as unearned income through unemployment benefits, child support and other sources. The tool also asks whether applicants participate in government assistance programs or live on tribal lands. Once applicants determine their eligibility, an interactive map helps them find a list of phone numbers of Lifeline program telecommunications services in their state.