Lifeline Eligibility via Total Household Income

You can qualify for an Obama Phone even if you do not participate in any of the government assistance programs discussed above — if your total household income is low enough.

It is far easier to sign up for an Obama Phone if you participate in one of those programs for the simple reason that your participation, in and of itself, is all the proof you need qualify for the Obama Phone program.

On the other hand, qualifying for an Obama Phone via total household income is more “difficult” because you will be required to verify your household’s annual income level. But the Obama Phone Lifeline Assistance program has proven so valuable to so many millions of Americans — and will undoubtedly prove just as valuable to you — that it is definitely worth the few minutes of extra work required to complete that verification.

What is “total household income?”

That’s the sum total of all the earnings by all the residents in your household for the previous year. Let’s say, for example, that you live with your spouse and an adult child. If you earned $12,000 last year, your spouse earned $10,000, and your adult child earned $5,000, your total house annual household income would be $27,000 ($12,000 plus $10,000 plus $5,000 = $27,000).

The federal government has established what it calls the Federal Poverty Guideline to define exactly what income level constitutes “poverty” in the United States. Each year it computes the cost of living and adjusts that Guideline to reflect the impact of inflation on buying power. As a result, the dollar figure associated with the Federal Poverty Guideline generally rises each year.

Obviously, one person can live more comfortably than two people on the same income. So the Federal Poverty Guideline also increases as the number of residents in a household increase. For example, the Federal Poverty Guideline is lower for one person living along than for a household of two. It continues to increase with each additional resident. (See chart below.)

Qualify by making 135-150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline or less”

To qualify for an Obama Phone, most states require that your total household income must be no higher than 135% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. A few states — eight to be exact — allow your household income to be as much as 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas.

Just to confuse the issue a bit further, California, Nevada and Vermont set their own state-specific income levels at which you qualify for an Obama Phone.

Alaska and Hawaii go along with the 135% level, but the Federal Poverty Guideline’s are set higher in those states because the cost of living is so abnormally high in those states.

Here is a specific example of how the numbers work: The Federal Poverty Guideline is $24,300 per year for a family of four in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. In a state that uses 135% of the poverty level to determine eligibility for an Obama Phone, you would qualify if the total income of all four family members living in your residence is less than $32,805 or less.

Confused? We are not surprised, because we’ve thrown a lot of numbers and a lot of terminology at you. Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to present a simple chart that lays out specific Federal Poverty Guidelines dollar figures for different households with different numbers of residents.

Qualifying Income Based on 2017 Federal Poverty Guidelines

People in HouseholdAll states except:
For each additional person, add$5,643$6,600$6,494$7,061

How to prove that your Total Household Income is low enough to qualify

At this point, you may be wondering exactly how you can prove your total household income in order to qualify for an Obama Phone. It’s simpler than it may sound, because you are allowed to prove your income by presenting any of the following documents.

Three consecutive months of ONE of these statements (from the previous 12 months):

  • Your pay stub
  • Social Security benefits statement
  • Veterans Administration benefits statement
  • Retirement/Pension benefits statement
  • Unemployment benefits statement

If those documents are not readily available, you can also prove your income by presenting any ONE of the following documents:

  • Prior year’s State or Federal Income tax return
  • Income statement from employer
  • Federal letter of participation in General Assistance
  • Divorce decree or child support document containing income

IMPORTANT NOTE: Only one Obama Phone is allowed per household no matter how many people live in the residence. Exceptions are made for people who live in group homes and homeless and battered women’s shelters, and for multiple families living in one home, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. You can find additional information on those exceptions in numerous articles on