As of 2015, the U.S. Government's Lifeline Assistance program is the most popular method for receiving free cell phone minutes. Roughly 20 million people have benefited from this program, which is informally called the Obamaphone program.
Though funded by the federal government, Lifeline is managed by state governments and delivered through private phone service providers. The program started in the 1980s as a way to provide low-income households with landline telephone service. Today, Lifeline provides qualifying individuals with free landline service or monthly allotments of free cell phone minutes and texts.
The number of minutes provided varies from provider to provider, but most providers offer 250 free minutes per month. Certain California providers stand out by offering unlimited free minutes and unlimited texting. Only one individual per household is allowed to participate in Lifeline. Although eligibility rules vary from state to state, all recipients of food stamps (or SNAP benefits) are eligible.
Widely called the Obamaphone program, LIfeline was created during the Reagan administration, and the program added its first cell phone provider during the George W. Bush era. Looking beyond Lifeline, individuals can make free cell phone calls by using smart phone apps such as Facebook Messenger. Live Wi-Fi connections are needed to make free calls in this way.