10 Fast Facts About the Lifeline Assistance Program for Mobile Phones

Lifeline Assistance Program Overview

The latest data from the Pew Research Institute shows that 95% of Americans now use a mobile phone. For many people, using a mobile phone is a normal necessity of daily life. However, for some a mobile phone is seen as an expensive commodity that’s difficult to afford.

Because a mobile phone can be an invaluable communication tool during emergencies, the government is now offering families assistance to cover the cost. The Lifeline Assistance program was originally created to reduce the cost of monthly home phone service, but the program now includes a variety of vital communication services.

Here are 10 essential facts that consumers need to know about the Lifeline Assistance program.

Fact #1 – The Program is Offered in Every State

Because Lifeline Assistance is a federal program, it’s available in every state. It’s also available for citizens living in Commonwealth areas, U.S. territories and tribal lands.

Fact #2 – Only One Discount Per Family is Allowed

Even though you may have multiple mobile phone users in the family, the Lifeline Assistance program only provides a discount for one phone plan per household.



Fact #3 – Qualification is Based on Poverty Level

Not everyone is eligible for the Lifeline Assistance program. To qualify your income has to be 135% or more below the federal poverty level. However, poverty level is determined by how many people are within your household.

Fact #4 – Getting Other Government Aid is an Immediate Qualifier

Consumers that have already qualified to receive Section 8 housing benefits, Medicaid, supplemental security income and/or food stamps are automatically eligible for the Lifeline Assistance program.

Fact #5 – You Have to Pick a Plan With an Approved Provider in the Marketplace

In recent years the Lifeline Assistance program has gotten the nickname “Obama phones”. This is partly due to the program’s increase in popularity during the Obama administration. It’s also because the program functions in a way that’s similar to Obamacare. In order to get the discounted plan, you have to use an approved provider and make a selection through the established marketplace.



Fact #6 – Device Providers Have to Include Wi-Fi Capability

The recent changes to the Lifeline Assistance program mean that all devices provided through the program must be Wi-Fi capable. Providers must also offer a certain number of devices that also have hotspot functionality.

Fact #7 – Government-Discounted Internet is Now Included

In March of 2016, the Lifeline program was reformed to reflect the modern era of communication. As a result, broadband Internet was added to the list of qualifying services.



Fact #8 – Choose Standalone Services or Bundle Them Together

Since broadband Internet is now available through the Lifeline Assistance program, eligible consumers can choose to a standalone cell phone plan, a standalone Internet plan or a plan that bundles the two together.

Fact #9 – You Can’t Get Wireline and Wireless Service at the Same Time

One of the limitations of the Lifeline Assistance program is that you can’t get a discount for both a wired phone line and a wireless phone. You’ll have to choose one or the other to qualify.

Fact #10 – Program Differs Between States

Although the Lifeline Assistance program is available in every state, that doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same across the board. Each state gets to decide what plans are included under the program and how the program is administered. That also means if you move to a different state you’ll new to check beforehand to make sure your plan is available.

Bonus Fact – The Lifeline Assistance Program is Poised to Expand

The federal government has shown no indication that the Lifeline Assistance program will be shrinking anytime soon. In fact, over the past year they have been actively recruiting more telecom providers to join the program and expand discounted Internet service. A few years ago the Universal Service Fund also approved to invest up to $2 billion in the program to keep expanding it.




If you think you may be eligible for the Lifeline Assistance program we highly encourage you to use the Lifeline Eligibility Pre-Screening Tool. It can be found on the Universal Service Administrative website and only takes a few minutes to complete.