Those wishing to participate in the Lifeline program must have an income that does not exceed 135 percent of the federal poverty level, or else be participating in one of another specific set of government assistance programs. These programs are Medicaid; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Supplemental Security Income; Federal Public House Assistance; the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program; Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; the National School Lunch Program's Free Lunch Program; Bureau of Indian Affairs Assistance; Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations; Head Start, if income criteria are met; and state assistance programs.
The federal poverty level is revised yearly and varies significantly between the contiguous states (including the District of Columbia), Alaska and Hawaii. It also depends on the number of people in a household. However, as a general guide, the federal poverty level in 2015 was set as follows in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia:
- $11,770 for a one-person household
- $15,930 for a two-person household
- $20,090 for a three-person household
- $24,250 for a four-person household
- $28,410 for a five-person household
With income eligibility for the Lifeline program set at a maximum of 135 percent of the federal poverty level, the annual income of a three-person household wishing to participate would therefore have to be no more than $27,121.50.