Obama Phone FAQs

Are Obama Phones really free?

Obama Phone cell phones, with wireless voice service, are free to eligible customers. There are no monthly bills, long-term contracts, activation fees or surcharges. Customers who qualify get a free cell phone and 250 minutes of free wireless voice service per month.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) compensates service providers like Safelink Wireless, and Assurance Wireless for the phones with money from the Universal Service Fund. The fund also covers the cost of customer airtime.

What is the Universal Service Fund?

The Universal Service Fund was created under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to make quality telephone service available to all Americans. Everyone with a phone bill pays a few cents monthly into the fund’s Lifeline program, and that pays for the free Obama Phones and airtime.

If you look at your phone bill closely you’ll find that you’re charged somewhere between a few cents and a few dollars (depending on how many lines you have) for an item called “Universal Service Fund. Add up all those cents and dollars found each month on hundreds of millions of American phone lines and it provides billions of dollars to fund the Obama Phone program.

Why is it called the Obama Phone?

Expansion of the Lifeline program to add coverage of cell phones took place in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. It began in Tennessee when the Tracfone company started up its Safelink Wireless service. Prior to that, Lifeline provided phone assistance only for landlines.

It was America’s rapidly expanding cellular phone use and associated cost reductions that spurred the move to include cell phone coverage in the Lifeline program. Though actual subsidization of landline phones was approved under President Reagan and began under President Bill Clinton, the name Obama Phone seems to stick because the timing of including cell phones coincides with Obama’s presidency.

Is there a contract to sign?

No contracts are required. In fact, no contracts are possible because Obama Phone customers’ eligibility is dependent on the individual’s financial situation.
Qualified customers receive their free Obama Phones and free monthly minutes for one year before needing to requalify. And, requalifying is as simple as answering a few questions by phone or online. Eligibility will be reviewed every year, with service discontinued if qualifications are no longer met. Customers may drop out at any time, but as long as they are qualified to continue, there is no limit to how long they can use their phones and access free minutes. There are some applicable terms and conditions that appear on the cell phone companies’ websites.

How do I prove eligibility for a free Obama Phone?

Proof of eligibility for a free phone and service must be provided under requirements of your state. Claiming state or federal program-based eligibility, such as Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP) or housing assistance, you will need to self-certify, under penalty of perjury, your participation in one of the programs listed for your specific state. Depending upon your state and the cell phone company you’re working with, you may have to provide documentation proving your participation in the program.

If you are claiming income-based eligibility, you must self-certify, under penalty of perjury, your total household income and the number of people in your household. In addition and in all cases, customers must present documentation of income. You can use any of the following:

  • Paycheck stub or your current income statement from an employer
  • Previous year’s state, federal or tribal tax return
  • Unemployment/worker’s compensation statement of benefits
  • Federal or tribal notice letter of participation in General Assistance
  • Divorce decree, child support or other official document
  • Social Security statement of benefits
  • Veterans Administration statement of benefits
  • Retirement/pension statement of benefits

Do you qualify for an Obama Phone? Get more information here.

How is total household income calculated?

Low-income eligibility is calculated by total household income and must be at or below 135 – 150 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines. Household income includes all income received by all household members, whether taxable or nontaxable, including: Social Security, unemployment benefits, workers compensation, wages, salaries, interest, dividends, spousal support, child support, grants, gifts, allowances, stipends, pensions, unemployment insurance payments, rental income, self-employment income, cash payments and all employment-related non-cash income. You may not be claimed as a dependent on another person’s income tax return.

Do you qualify for an Obama Phone? Get more information here.

Why is a physical address required to receive a free Obama Phone?

The federal Lifeline program requires a physical address and does not accept a P.O. Box. This is not a requirement set by Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, Access Wireless, or any of the other companies that provide free cell phones.

However, under new, revised regulations you can now qualify if you live in a shelter or group home.

How does someone qualify if they live in a shelter or group home?

The Lifeline Assistance program allows that only one free cell phone may be provided per residence. But, Lifeline support may be made available to an eligible low-income subscriber in a group living facility when they complete a one-per-household worksheet showing that the other Lifeline recipients in the facility are part of a separate household.

Many Lifeline Assistance cell phone companies now attempt to make this clear by including a bolded statement on their websites. Others, like Assurance Wireless, clarify the situation with their own statements:

“Separate households that live at the same address are eligible, including residents of homeless shelters and nursing homes. Residents with temporary addresses are also eligible. A household is defined as any individual or group of individuals who live together at the same address and share income and expenses.”

What does it take to qualify?

To simplify things for you before you contact a Lifeline phone vendor and request the worksheet, here are the relevant questions to ask:

1. Does your spouse or domestic partner (that is, someone you are married to, or in a relationship with) already receive a Lifeline‐discounted phone? (check no if you do not have a spouse or partner) _____YES _____NO

– If you checked YES, you may not sign up for Lifeline because someone in your household already receives Lifeline. Only one Lifeline discount is allowed per household.
– If you checked NO, please answer question #2.

2. Other than a spouse or partner, do other adults (people over the age of 18 or emancipated minors) live with you at your address?

A. A parent __YES __NO
B. An adult son or daughter __YES __NO
C. Another adult relative __YES __NO
D. An adult roommate __YES __NO
E. Other ___________ (such as a sibling, aunt, cousin, grandparent, grandchild, etc.)

If you checked NO for each statement above, you do not need to answer the remaining questions. Please initial line B, below, and sign and date the worksheet. If you checked YES, please answer question #3.

3. Do you share living expenses (bills, food, etc.) and share income (either your income, the other person’s income or both incomes together) with at least one of the adults listed above in question #2? _____YES _____NO

– If you checked NO, then your address includes more than one household. Please initial lines A and B below, and sign and date the worksheet.
– If you checked YES, then your address includes only one household. You may not sign up for Lifeline because someone in your household already receives Lifeline.

If you live in a group home or shelter, and feel you qualify, give one of the Lifeline cell phone companies a call and be sure to tell them you are requesting the “one-per-household worksheet.” You can find a list of phone providers by state when you click here.

What is the recertification process?

Annual recertification is required to keep your free Obama Phone and free wireless service. With the exception of some states, and unlike the initial application procedure, you won’t need to provide supporting documentation of program eligibility. There is no charge for recertifying. Phone providers are required by law to contact you prior to the expiration date of your eligibility. You will receive a text message, phone call, or a letter informing you that you must recertify with them. You must respond within 60 days. If you fail to respond, or you respond and the phone company is unable to verify your eligibility through a state eligibility database, you will lose your ObamaPhone and will no longer be able to participate in the Lifeline program

To recertify, you must submit information, including your phone number, and you may need the PIN number (or password) that you were originally assigned. You may be asked for any of the following:

  • Your current address
  • Your former address (if you’ve moved since you got your free ObamaPhone)
  • Your date of birth
  • Your social security number
  • The name of the qualifying government assistance program in which you participate or your total household income.

Procedures for the main free government cell phone companies are listed below. Some companies have a convenient way for you to recertify your phone online. Unfortunately, most do not. We’ve provided the link for those that do allow online Lifeline recertification; and we’ve provided notes for the others. Recertification is also available by phone or by mailing in a recertification form they will mail you.

Here is a quick summary showing how each of the major Obama Phone service providers handles its recertification process:

Access Wireless Recertification

From the Access Wireless website:

“Consumers who participate in the Lifeline Program must recertify annually that they remain eligible for the program and that no one else in their household receives Lifeline Program-supported service. If you do not complete the recertification process by the end of the year, you will no longer receive your free monthly Lifeline benefit and your phone will no longer work unless you add money to your account.

To begin the recertification process, click here to login to your account.


American Assistance Recertification

From the American Assistance website:

Federal regulatory authorities require that at least once a year customers certify their eligibility to participate in the federal Lifeline Assistance program. Click here to re-certify.

Assist Wireless Recertification

Assist Wireless allows you to re-certify by mail, fax or email. Here’s how the company’s website describes the process:

“Prior to the expiration date of your eligibility, you will receive a text, phone message, or a letter informing you that you must recertify your continued eligibility in the Lifeline Phone Program. If you fail to recertify within sixty (60) days after being notified, or if Assist is unable to verify your eligibility thru a state eligibility database, you will be deemed ineligible to continue participate the Lifeline Phone Program. Lifeline phone discounts you currently receive will be discontinued at that time and only Non-Lifeline discounted minute plans will be available for you to purchase.”

Assurance Wireless Recertification

The Assurance website spells it out:

“If you are a customer of Assurance Wireless, a Lifeline Assistance program, we are happy to serve you. Each year, Federal and/or State regulatory authorities require that customers certify their eligibility for the Lifeline Assistance program within 60 days of their annual enrollment.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 1-888-321-5880. Thank you for taking the time to complete the certification process.”

You can complete the process online here.


Blue Jay Wireless Recertification

Blue Jay Wireless allows you to complete your annual recertification by phone, online, by fax, US mail, or at one of their stores or kiosks. The company’s website makes it easy with state by state information and additional helpful information. You can find that page here.

Budget Mobile Recertification

Budget Mobile’s website has a special page where you begin the annual recertification process by simply plugging your cell phone number into a convenient form. You can find that page here.

Cintex Wireless

From the Re-Certification page on Easy’s website:

“To maintain your Easy Wireless Lifeline discounted service, you are required to provide proof of eligibility for Lifeline service. Please complete the questionnaire and provide documentation of continued eligibility. Read carefully all instructions, answer all questions, and provide an image of your documentation by taking a picture of each page of your eligibility documents and uploading them at the end of this process. If you are not able to use your device for recertification, you may visit one of our stores where one of our trained associates can help you recertify. You can find the nearest location to you at www.myeasywireless.com/store-locator

“To start the process let us know who you are by entering your account number and the last 4 digits of you social security number.”

You might even say that the Cintex process is simple. Just enter a few simple pieces of information and type a captcha code into a box to prove you’re not a data skimming robot, and you’re on your way.

Easy Wireless Recertification

From Easy’s Re-Certification page:

“To maintain your Easy Wireless Lifeline discounted service, you are required to provide proof of eligibility for Lifeline service. Please complete the questionnaire and provide documentation of continued eligibility. Read carefully all instructions, answer all questions, and provide an image of your documentation by taking a picture of each page of your eligibility documents and uploading them at the end of this process. If you are not able to use your device for recertification, you may visit one of our stores where one of our trained associates can help you recertify. You can find the nearest location to you at www.myeasywireless.com/store-locator

“To start the process let us know who you are by entering your account number and the last 4 digits of you social security number.”

The process is simple. Easy asks for your account number, the last four digits of your social security number, and asks you to type a captcha code into a box to prove you’re not a data skimming robot.

EnTouch Recertification

EnTouch allows you to re-certify by mail, online or by phone. California Obama Phone customers should be aware of this notice shown on enTouch’s recertification page:

“California residents will be contacted directly by the California LifeLine administrator with recertification instructions.”

Feel Safe Wireless Recertification

FeelSafe’s website spells out how to begin the process:

“All FeelSafe Wireless Lifeline customers are required to recertify annually that they still participate in a qualifying program and are still eligible for Lifeline phone service. After you complete the recertification process, your FeelSafe Wireless phone service will renew for an additional year with no changes to your current account. If you have questions about the annual recertification process, please contact customer service at 1-877-247-7799.”

The site also leads to a recertification page on which you will be required to enter your Obama Phone number, your last name, your date of birth and the last four digits of your social security card.

Life Wireless Recertification

Life Wireless’s recertification form can be found online here.

It’s a bit intimidating because it’s four pages long and has many questions to answer and boxes to check.

Q Link Wireless Recertification

Q Link’s website says:

“You will be notified that it’s time to recertify via phone, text, email and post card. If you do not submit your free Annual Recertification by December 31, your cell phone service will be turned off.”

The company gives you several ways to recertify — by phone, by fax, online or by phone. Its recertification page can be found here.

Reachout Wireless Recertification

Although ReachOut is no longer accepting new customers in its Lifeline program, current customers are still able to re-certify here.

Safelink Wireless Recertification

Safelink offers two ways to recertify. The first method requires you to enter your enrollment ID and the last four digits of your social security number. However, the company seems to realize that many customers will not remember their enrollment ID, so it also allows you to begin the recertification process by plugging in your zip code, date of birth, and the last four digits of your social security number.
That page can be found here.

Standup Wireless Recertification

Unfortunately, it appears that StandUp has dropped out of the Lifeline Assistance business. Its recertification page says, “Recertification is not currently available!”

Tag Mobile Recertification

TAG Mobile affords our participating Lifeline customers a variety of ways to re-certify. You may choose the method that’s easiest for you:

  • You may call the company’s recertification department speak to a live operator
  • You may call the company’s Customer Service department
  • You may mail in or fax a copy of your completed Annual Lifeline Recertification form

See complete information here.

TruConnect (formerly Telscape) Recertification

TruConnect (formerly Telscape) offers the Lifeline Assistance program only in California. Here’s how the company’ sew site spells out the Re-certification process:

“The California Lifeline Administration will automatically send you a renewal form in the mail 105 days prior to your anniversary date . The renewal form includes your Personal Identification Number ( PIN ) in a pink envelope. Your PIN is located on the first page of your renewal form.”

As soon as you have your PIN number, you can recertify by phone or online here.

Terracom Wireless Recertification

Terracom allows you to recertify by mail and online. You can begin the process here.


True Wireless Recertification

The True Wireless Re-certification process can be completed online by going to this page:


Total Call Mobile Recertification

Certification process unknown. The company’s website says, “Annual Lifeline recertification period has ended. If you have not completed recertification, your Lifeline phone service will be cancelled.” Company did not respond to our inquiries.

US Connect Recertification

US Connect allows you to recertify in three different ways:

  • Call its automated phone line and follow the automated prompts.
  • Call customer service and an agent will tell you how to recertify by mail.
  • Go to one of the addresses listed to recertify with an agent.

You can get complete information on the company’s online recertification page.

How are fraud, abuse and waste reported and handled?

There are always those who try to work the system and take advantage of others, even with a program as beneficial as Lifeline Assistance. Some applicants lie about their eligibility and some phone providers are fraudulent with their sign-ups. Suspected fraud, waste and abuse, when allowed to go unchecked, open the program up to criticism and put its future in jeopardy for those who most need it. Not everyone understands, and in fact some strongly object to Lifeline, but the program is vital in helping the poor reach out to potential employers, family members and emergency assistance. Reporting helps end the problem and results in cancellation of service for abusers.

The Reporting Procedure

It’s easy to report waste, fraud or abuse, and it may be done anonymously. Contact the special Whistleblower Alert line at the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). What is the USAC? It is the organization that oversees the Universal Service Fund (USF), which oversees and pays for the federally-mandated Lifeline Assistance Program.

The USAC wants to hear of any wrongdoing, and treats each report of waste, fraud, or abuse as a serious and urgent matter requiring immediate attention. Contact the company about any of the following:

  • Potential violations of USAC laws, rules or regulations.
  • Gross mismanagement or gross waste of funds.
  • Fraudulent activity.
  • Abuse of authority.

There are four ways you to file a Whistleblower Alert:

Telephone: Call (888) 641-8722, and tell the operator you want to report a “whistleblower alert” concerning USF waste, fraud, or abuse. Specially trained staff will then record your report.

U.S. Mail: USAC 
Whistleblower Alert: 
2000 L Street NW, 
Suite 200 
Washington, DC 20036

Email: Send your email to potentialviolation@usac.org.

Contact Form: Click this link for the contact form. You’ll be prompted for the type of complaint; select “low-income.”

Whistleblower Alert Hotline webpage: 
http://www.usac.org/about/tools/contact/whistleblower.aspx