In this tech age of instant communication, it’s critically important to have a means of contact with everyone. Whether it’s connecting to your family, friends, or co-workers, everyone needs a phone. But what if you don’t have the means to buy your own phone or data plan? These days a budget line of smartphones (like Google’s Pixel line, Apple’s iPhone SE, or even lesser-known budget brands like the OnePlus) start in the range of $500-$600 dollars unlocked. Someone needs to tell these companies what budget means for the likes of people on a limited income (like my elderly father). Thankfully, this is where the Lifeline Assistance government program comes to be very handy.
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What Is Lifeline Assistance?
The Lifeline Program, or simply Lifeline, is a federal program that provides a free or discounted monthly subscription to low-income consumers. Qualified people can save at least $9.25 in phone data each month. For example, if you qualify for a Lifeline plan, you can get a Verizon plan (usually $25) for only $15.75. Although Lifeline is available to all qualified people all around the country, it’s best to double check your county and area code.
Your free data, talk, and text package will depend on your location and the communications provider that backs up the plan. Every county has a similar set of requirements (for example, Lifeline is applicable to all EBT aid recipients.) In our county, Virgin Wireless is the provider and offer all data, talk, and text plans for completely free.
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Benefits of Getting Lifeline Assistance
1. Free Monthly Data Allocation
It’s not that much, but every company that is offering the Lifeline Assistance Program gives free monthly data. Access Wireless, one of the providers of this program, gives up to 200MB of data in for qualified people in Alabama, California, Georgia, New Hampshire, Texas, Utah, and more. Meanwhile, Assurance Wireless gives 500MB per month. The best plans are offered by Safelink Wireless, which has free 3GB of data allocation per month.
2. Free Airtime And Text Allocation
Lifeline also gives hundreds of free airtime once you’re qualified for the program. A lot of participating telcos give at least 350 minutes of call time and unlimited texts for free. For important calls, 350 minutes per month would be enough for personal use.
3. Discounted Mobile Plans
If the MB allocations you received is not enough for a month, (which is usually the case), you can upgrade your free plan for a heavily discounted price. An example of this benefit is GCI (formerly known as Alaska DigiTel), which offers unlimited talk and text nationwide for just a dollar a month. These discounts are usually applied for texts and call time.
4. Free Phone
A lot of Lifeline providers also give free phones for their plans. Among these are Safelink Wireless, Qlink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, and TruConnect. While most telcos provide cheap touch screen phones for free, Lifeline users can get decent Samsung phones and even iPhones for a very cheap price.
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Who Are Qualified For This Program?
Qualifying for the Lifeline Program is not too challenging. There are three ways to qualify, but passing through the screening option is not easy. If you’re not qualified for any of these conditions, there are still cheaper mobile options out there for you to try.
In this category, if your income is 135% or less than the amount stated in the federal poverty guidelines, you’re eligible for the program. Take note that this rule is not measured for individual income. It is based on the total combined income of each member of a household.
Federal Assistance Programs
Those who are beneficiaries of federal assistance programs are also qualified for Lifeline Assistance. If your child or dependent is a member of these federal programs, their membership will qualify you for Lifeline plans. Here are the following lists of eligible assistance programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
If you live in an area considered as a Tribal Land, there’s a chance that you’d qualify for the program. You or someone in your household must either be a participant of federal assistance programs, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Head Start, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. On top of the $9.25 mandatory discount, you would also receive an extra $25 discount on your monthly bill.
Step-By-Step Guide In Applying To Lifeline
Step 1: Check For Eligibility
Check your state’s poverty guidelines to know if you can qualify through income. If not, check if you’re a participant of a legible federal program. Don’t get disheartened if you did not qualify for any of the categories. There are still cheap alternatives that you can try.
Step 2: Do Your Homework
The next step is to know the available telcos who offers Lifeline Assistance in your area. If you live in a city, it is likely that you have more options to choose from. There might be limited options if you live in rural areas.
Step 3: Choose Your Provider
Now that you know the telcos that offer Lifeline Assistance in your area, choose a provider that offers the best deals for you. Choose based on the services that you consume a lot. If you text a lot, get a plan with an unlimited texting option. Go to the provider’s website and enter your ZIP Code to start.
Step 4: Fill Up Forms
You can fill up forms by going to the telco’s branch and asking for a form. Another way to submit your form is to print a blank one, fill it up with your credentials, and mail it to the company along with other requirements. Alternatively, online form submission is available, but you still have to send your other requirements via mail.
Step 5: Submit Forms & Required Documents
Typically, the Universal Service Administrative Co. will do the work to verify your eligibility. In the instance that they cannot verify your information or eligibility in the program, you might need to mail additional documents. For the telco side, the information that you need to supply is a full legal name, birth date, the last four digits of your SSN, and address. You should also prepare a copy of any of the following:
- An unexpired ID
- Social Security Card
- Medicaid Card
- Tax Return from the previous year
- Proof of Income
- Proof of participation (if you qualify because of your membership in federal programs)
Step 6: Wait
Last but not least, wait for the approval. You can find the status of your application via the tools of your service provider. Expect your government phone within five to ten business days after your account is approved.
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Other Important Things You Need To Know About Lifeline
1. Only One Discount For Household Is Allowed
Lifeline Assistance Program is available for both mobile and home phones. However, you can only take one discount, which means that you will need to choose where the discount will be applied. In addition, only one qualified individual is allowed to claim the discount from Lifeline.
2. There’s A Fee If Your Government Phone Got Stolen
If your free phone was stolen and you’re unable to retrieve it, the best action is to call the police and the service provider. The only way to get a replacement is to report the incident to the telco. Memorize your own number, keep your IMEI, MEID, or ESN number, and remember the brand and model of your device. Take note that you would be responsible for the fee that the provider will incur once you opted for a replacement.
3. You Can Use Your Own Phone
Lifeline providers offer free handsets for those people who don’t have a mobile phone. What a lot of people didn’t know is that BYOP or Bring Your Own Phone is possible. Some of the benefits of using this program are familiarity and convenience. There are telcos who give a bonus to people who will use this option. For example, Assist Wireless gives a free 1GB of data or $15 account credit if someone opts for the BYOP program instead of getting a new phone.
4. You Need To Renew The Plan Each Year
The Lifeline program is free to use and is really helpful for keeping a lot of people connected. But in order to keep receiving discounts and free stuff, the subscriber must use the service for at least once every 30 days. If the user failed to do so, the system will give a 15-day notice. After the 15-day term lapsed without program usage, it will be automatically turned off.
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Lifeline Assistance Providers
1. SafeLink Wireless
SafeLink Wireless is one of the oldest and most reliable Lifeline Providers in the country. It will give you 3GB of data with unlimited calls and text. However, with their wide coverage, it would be harder to qualify for a Lifeline plan.
2. QLink Wireless
QLink Wireless is another provider usually focused on servicing places like Arkansas, Maryland, South Carolina, Texas, and more. What makes this a good option is that you can carry over the remaining airtime unused from month to month.
If you live in California, TruConnect is a provider that you would want to keep in mind. California LifeLIne offers unlimited talk and text, a free phone, and 2G of data. However, it gives 1,000 minutes, unlimited text, and 2GB of data for other states, which is not bad at all.
4. Assurance Wireless
Compared to the offers of other providers above, Assurance Wireless is definitely not that impressive when it comes to services. You’ll get free 350 minutes of airtime, unlimited text, and 500 MB of data. However, its vast coverage makes it one of the biggest Lifeline providers in the country. The phone selection also tends to be better than other providers listed above.
Alternative Cheap Plans If You Did Not Qualify For A Lifeline Plan
1. Unlimited Call And Text With Data
One of the cheapest plans with call time, texts, and data is Sprint’s $45/per month plan. For those who use autopay, the prize will be slashed to $40. With this plan, you will get unlimited call time and text, in addition to 2GB of data.
2. Calls & Text Only
Not all people care about being online and would rather call or text their contacts. Ting’s $12 call-and-text plan is one of the cheapest options out there. Each month, the subscriber will receive 100 minutes of air time and 100 texts.
3. Flexible Data Package
AT&T’s GoPhone Pay As You Go plan is your best option if you only pay for services that you use. This is for people who would often take weeks or months before he or she would use mobile services. This plan causes $2 per day of use and would give its subscribers 100MB for $1.