While there are no "free Obama cell phones," the FCC provides programs for low-income and Tribal Lands residents to apply for partially-subsidized cell phones, in order to gain access to communications important for safety and getting a job. The subsidy programs go by the names Link-Up and Lifeline.
President Barack Obama had nothing to do with the phone programs being touted as "free Obama phones." The two programs were started in the 1980s and then expanded significantly with new powers granted by the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act. Applicants must be using another federal assistance program, such as SNAP or Medicaid, and have an income that is below 13.5 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Verizon customers can receive up to a $9.25 discount on their phone service through the Lifeline program. Only one customer per household may receive Lifeline benefits, and customers must check with Verizon ahead of time to see if their region is covered by Lifeline. Although U.S. citizens can utilize Lifeline in all states, commonwealths and territories of the United States, not all cell phone providers are required to provide Lifeline access to users everywhere. For Verizon, the customer's residential address must be located in the area of service to qualify.