The Lifeline Assistance program, often called the "Obama phone" program, offers free cell phones and service to low-income Americans. Eligibility varies from state to state, but those who qualify for low-income programs, such as Medicaid, SSI, SNAP or TANF, may receive a phone under the program.
In addition to the Federal program eligibility, individuals may qualify for a free phone if their income is under 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Some states increase this allowance to 150 percent or more. Also, enrollment in some state assistance programs also serves as qualification for free phone service. Users can determine their eligibility and apply using the tools at the LifelineSupport.org.
The Lifeline Assistance program actually began in the 1980s under President Reagan as a way to provide telephone service to poor Americans for emergencies. President Clinton signed legislation that opened the program to provide cell phones, and the program was expanded again under President Bush. The "Obama phone" nickname came from a viral video in which a woman thanked President Obama for giving her a phone, causing many to assume that the program was a recent creation. The program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company through cellular providers in each state that subscribes to the program.