Lifeline Facts

  • Lifeline Assistance is a program of the FCC that helps over 10 million Americans who cannot afford a phone and service, in order to help them keep in contact with employers, family, and medical and emergency services.
  • Lifeline began under the Reagan administration to help low-income Americans afford their landline phone service, and was updated during the Bush administration to include mobile phones.
  • Lifeline was nicknamed Obamaphone since the popularity of the program exploded under the Obama Administration.
  • Obamaphones are available from companies in 49 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
  • U.S. citizenship is not a requirement to receive an Obamaphone.
  • Only one Lifeline phone per household is allowed, whether it be a discounted-service landline phone or a cell phone.
  • There are over 50 companies offering Obamaphones.
  • The largest company, Safelink Wireless, has 3.6 million customers, and is owned by Tracfone, a company owned by the richest man in the world, Mexico’s Carlos Slim.
  • Most companies offer 250 minutes of talk and text a month, but recently more minutes and 1,000 texts to even unlimited texts are being offered.
  • Some California companies offer has the best deal in the country — unlimited talk and unlimited texting.
  • The Lifeline program is not taxpayer-funded. It is funded by the Universal Service Fund fees that are required by law to be collected by telecommunications companies. The fund is used for various telecommunication projects, including Lifeline Assistance.
  • The FCC has initiated fraud and abuse controls which save hundreds of minutes of cost each year.
  • A household is eligible for an Obamaphone if a member of the household participates in any of the following public assistance programs:
    – Food Stamps (SNAP)
    – Medicaid
    – Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    – The National School Lunch Program (Free Lunch Program)
    – Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
    – Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
    – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
    – * Other state-specific program eligibility is often available.
  • A household is also eligible if the total household income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for that state. Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. California, Nevada and Vermont allow 150%.
  • The cell phone companies receive $9.25 for each subscriber (higher for Tribal) in order to provide the cell phone and service free to the subscriber.
  • There is no contract to sign to receive the service, which lasts for one year. The service can be renewed annually with a quick recertification process.
  • The program is free in nearly every state, but some states require very small monthly fees ($1 per month in Oklahoma, $1 from some companies in Alaska, and a $5 monthly fee was proposed but rejected in Georgia).