Under the FCC's Lifeline program, residents of certain states who receive some form of government financial assistance, such as EBT, may be eligible for a free cellular phone and service. Exact requirements vary by state, but residents generally must either be receiving assistance or have a very low income.
Being on a benefit program, such as EBT or TANF, may automatically qualify residents for a free phone in some states. Others simply require residents to have income that is below or just above the poverty line. The state department of human services, or its equivalent, is a good place to start to find out the specifics.
Though the program is administered by the FCC and funded by major phone service providers, such as Verizon and Virgin, applicants get their phone and service through a local private company. The company is usually affiliated with one of the major phone service providers, and applicants get a phone from that provider and service on its network.
The phones given out are usually one of the most basic models of prepaid phone. They are generally not smartphones and do not have touch screens, though some, such as those provided by Virgin, may have keyboards.