The Lifeline Program: Making Communication More Affordable

Many Americans have never heard of the Lifeline Program. Since 1985, this program has helped eligible low-income Americans with cheaper phone services. The idea behind this program lies within the opportunities and security that good phone service brings. People use phone services for many reasons from your job, your family, in emergencies, and more. This program is available in every state, commonwealth, territory, and on Tribal lands. The program helps qualifying Americans in need. This means you also need to have an eligible income level.

2016 was a big year for the Lifeline Program. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) made the program more modern. This meant that supportive services offered by the program included broadband internet. The FCC not only added a supported service, but improved their standards as well. The FCC made guidelines to make sure that there would be the best value to the service. In fact, the FCC also created a National Eligibility Verifier as a better application system.

How to Understand Your Eligibility

Those who would like the Lifeline program need to meet an income requirement of making 135% less than the standard indicated in the Federal Poverty Guidelines. If you and/or a member of your household register in one or more the following programs, you will qualify for the Lifeline program:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Medicaid
  • Tribal Programs
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Veterans Pension
  • Survivors Benefit

It is smart to have all of your documents ready when you apply. Online sources will go over what you need to have.

Application Process

The application process is pretty simple. Every applicant must finish an application on the National Verifier application system. Used by the FCC and run by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), this centralized system verifies applicant eligibility.

Some US states are not in the digital National Verifier program. If you are living in one of those states or if you would like to explore alternative options to complete the application process, you will find more information here.

Cell Phone/Landline Service Providers

Lifeline works with two main cell phone providers SafeLink Wireless and Assurance Wireless. Both companies offer good packages not only for those who are in the Lifeline program, but those who are either on food stamps or Medicaid. As for landlines, some of the biggest telephone companies, including AT&T and CenturyLink work with the Lifeline program and you can find a complete list here.

Know Your Rights

If approved for the Lifeline program, you have certain rights that your service provider must follow, which includes:

  • Providing at least 1000 minutes for cell phones
  • Internet at home should have a speed of 25/3 Mbps with a minimum usage of 1024 GB on a monthly basis
  • A cell phone data plan of 3G and the right to use 4.5 GB on a monthly basis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Low-Income Broadband Pilot Program

The FCC created a starter program back in 2012. The goal of this program was to get data to help understand the internet issues for low-income individuals. Cost, relevance, and the ability to get your message across digitally are all considered in this data.

This program specified that providers who were in the program had to collect and submit their data. Fortunately, your personal information doesn’t get impacted because the data is anonymous. Independent studies have used this information in order to best see what works and what doesn’t in providing universal service. This data was able to help them figure out some key parts of the problem.

Has Coronavirus Changed the Lifeline Program?

COVID-19 took a toll on Americans in a variety of ways. As a result, there have been many changes to programs in order to help more. The Lifeline Program is no different. The FCC put a temporary pause on a variety of aspects for current subscribers. These temporary pauses of this program will be in effect until June 30th, 2021.

The FCC also created more protections for current subscribers. The FCC made orders that would give protection to subscribers to keep them from getting kicked off of the Lifeline program. There are also updated eligibility requirements. The FCC made it easier for qualified, unemployed Americans to get assistance from the Lifeline Program. Overall, even though COVID-19 has had some bad impacts on society, the Lifeline Program has changed to try to continue to help those in need. It may be able to help you as well.