Most people are aware of government assistance programs like Food Stamps or Medicaid but did you know that there is an assistance program for your phone service? Lifeline is part of a program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) that provides a subsidy in the form of a discount on your phone service. Lifeline will save you at least $10 per month but typically reduces your phone bill by over $13.50. In addition to the monthly savings, there is also a benefit called Link-up that will pay half of your activation fees, up to $30.
With sustained U.S. unemployment rates above 9% for over a year now, it’s not surprising that the number of Americans receiving food stamps is over 40 million and is expected to keep rising. Medicaid recipients total over 50 million. If you’re one of these people, you are qualified to receive the Lifeline discount on your phone service.
Food Stamps and Medicaid aren’t the only programs that qualify you for Lifeline assistance. Some states follow federal guidelines while others have their own rules. The Federal guidelines require that your total household income does not exceed 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or that you’re enrolled in at least one of these programs:
* Food Stamps
* Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
* Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8 housing)
* Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
* Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
* The National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program
Now that you know you qualify, how do you get it? It’s easier than you might think. You don’t have to go to a special government office and meet with a caseworker. You don’t have to change phone service providers if you currently have service. If you currently have home phone service, call your phone company and ask to be put on the Lifeline program. They’ll typically ask you to fill out and sign a simple form which you’ll need to fax or send to them. The form typically asks for your name and address, and which of the qualifying programs you’re enrolled in. Your signature is stating that you are telling the truth. Some states also require some form of proof of the qualifying program like your award letter.
If you don’t have working home phone service, check your yellow pages for a local phone company and ask them about their Lifeline home phone service. All of your major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Quest offer it as do most of the Competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs). Don’t worry about your credit history. If you’re eligible for Lifeline, you aren’t required to pay a deposit if you’re willing to let the provider block any toll calls from your phone. You’ll still be able to make long distance calls using a calling card or some other prepaid service.
The Lifeline discount is applicable to just one phone line per household. And, the Link-up subsidy is a one-time benefit. So, it’s not a good idea to keep changing providers since you’ll only get the $30 discount once. You may get away with receiving Link-up more than once by going to a different carrier but it’s not legal for you to do so and the form that you sign to get started is your statement that you’ve never received Link-up before.
The Lifeline benefit can be applied to cellular service instead of home phone. There are a few cellular service providers that offer a “free government cell phone” which is actually the Lifeline program. It typically gives you between 60 and 200 minutes of service per month and a free handset which is your Link-up benefit. But, you can’t get the Lifeline benefit for your cell phone if you’re receiving it on your home phone, and vice-versa.
So if you’re one of the over 50 million Americans receiving government assistance, call your phone service provider now and ask them about Lifeline home phone service.