I’m homeless. Can I get an Obama Phone?

We receive many comments from low-income Americans who fall through the cracks in the Obama Phone regulations. In other words, they qualify for the program because they are low-income, but don’t qualify for the program because they find themselves in one of several “homeless” situations.

Luckily, there are solutions to that problem.

Several years ago, the Federal Communications Commission relaxed its rules so that Obama Phone companies “…must obtain that consumer’s permanent residential address, unless they only have a temporary address.”

In other words, temporary residents of homeless shelters, women’s shelters, veterans shelters and any other multi-family address, who had heretofore been ineligible for the Obama Phone program, can now qualify by using the address of the shelter in which they live. NOTE: While other Obama Phone customers must verify their address and eligibility once per year, residents of temporary shelters are required to verify their temporary residence address quarterly.)

Obama Phone regulations state that only one free cell phone is allowed per residence. But the government has recognized the folly in that rule at a time when economic conditions commonly require multiple families to share one residence. The Federal Communications Commission addressed that problem by saying, “… [R]ecognizing that there are instances where multiple households (i.e., families) reside at the same address we implement procedures to enable applicants in such circumstances to demonstrate at enrollment that other Lifeline recipients residing at the same address are a separate household.”

Some Obama Phone companies now specifically address the homeless shelter issue on their websites. For example, the Assurance Wireless website now says, “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 define as any individual or group of individuals who live together at the same address and share income and expenses.”

That leaves one remaining group of homeless individuals who are still not eligible for an Obama Phone — those who are homeless, but use a Post Office Box to receive mail.

Unfortunately, the FCC fears that allowing a post office box to qualify as a home address opens the program up to too much potential fraud.

In fact, the Commission addressed this very question by saying, “We are concerned that some subscribers could list a P.O. Box as their address in an effort to avoid complying with our one-per-household requirement.”

So, unfortunately, the answer is no, you will not be eligible for an Obama Phone if you list a PO Box as your home address.

Do not blame your Obama Phone company. They have no choice but to reject your application because to do otherwise would be a violation of the rules and could subject them to major monetary fines.

We have heard that one way around the prohibition of post office boxes is to find a friend or relative who will allow you to use their address. However, even this is a violation of the regulations, so we would never recommend it.