Free government phone programs.
Several telecommunication companies will provide their customers with a free cellular phone. The program is run in partnership with the federal government and is provided as the result of fees that every household already pays on their telephone bills each month.
The name of the free program is Lifeline Assistance, but it can be called different names in different states or by various phone companies. The reason it was created by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) agency is to ensure that all households have access to some means of communication. The fact is that many families struggle to purchase an expensive cell phone or pay the deposits to start the service at their home. Lifeline is there for them and can help families overcome these barriers.
Many of the applicants to the free government phone program live on a fixed income. This includes a person on SSI disability or maybe a senior citizen living on a pension or social security payments. Or maybe the household is facing a short term crisis, such as the loss of a job. The up front as well as recurring savings from this government created phone plan can really add up.
No matter what may be causing the hardship, people should not hesitate to ask for help as this is exactly why Lifeline was created. After all, the fees that people pay as part of the Universal Service Fund are used to offer this service.
Plans offered by cellular phone companies or other providers
There are a number of companies that provide the phones to consumers. They will often (but not always) require a contract to be signed, and the terms and conditions will vary. As with any agreement that someone enters into, they should always review the terms of the deal closely. Many states also have agencies set up to answer questions from potential applicants.
One company, Assurance Wireless is part of the Virgin Mobile network. They will provide the government backed phone program is most states, but they do not operate in all of them. In general, they will provide a qualified customer with up to 250 minutes of talk time each month as well as free texting. In some cases they will also offer a new customer a free mobile phone with voicemail, call waiting, and other features.
While they do offer additional services, many of those can come with a fee. The FCC Lifeline Assistance will only pay for basic service, so if a household wants additional features added to their phone, those will normally come with a cost. While there may be a discount on those extras, it is still an expense above and beyond what the government will pay. This is one key reason to always review the contract closely. If the agreement is unclear, never hesitate to get additional advice on it before signing the deal.
Another major player in the marketplace is Safelink Wireless, which is part of a company called TracFone. They partner with dozens of cell phone tower companies to provide coverage to as many parts of the nation as possible. When it comes to the monthly costs to customers, the terms and conditions on the usage of their cell phone is similar to the other providers it that they will offer a limited number of minutes, text message at no cost, and maybe even a free handset in some cases.
Many many other companies can help low income families receive a free phone and/or a discount on their monthly bills. Some of them include Budget Mobile, EnTouch and others. As noted, always review a contract closely and be aware of any extra fees that could be charged.
Key terms to receive free services or phones
Each state will have different application criteria in place. The customer service representatives from the companies such as Assurance can help answer questions that people have. They too want as many families as possible to get a phone as it helps their business in the long term by having a larger customer base.
In general, a free cell phone is available for families already receiving some type of state or federal benefits, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), TANF cash grants, Medicaid, or free school lunches. Also, even if a household is not on public assistance, they may still qualify for a free home or mobile telephone based on their income.
There are no restrictions of what the phone can be used for. Senior citizens can use it to make a doctor appointment or to talk to a loved one. Many of the participants of these programs only use Lifeline for emergency calls. As there are restrictions on minutes available each month. If someone exceeds those limits, then the customer will need to pay for the extra charges that are not covered by the government.
More information on telephone discount plans by state
In addition to the providers listed above, each state may offer additional assistance from Lifeline or another program known as Link-Up. The local governments will also generally be able to answer questions on the phone programs that are part of the federal services as well.