In some states, low-income households can get free cell phones through the Federal Communications Commission's Lifeline Assistance program. Two companies offer free cell phones for low-income participants - SafeLink Wireless and Assurance Wireless.
Update 09/08/11: Assurance Wireles in now available in Maine.
If you are having financial difficulties and can prove it, you can get free prepaid cellular service in 35 states. Some plans include text, but it takes time off the minutes. To find out if you are eligible, check each of the carriers' websites. We have listed the states covered by free cell-phone programs at the end of this article.
Safelink Wireless program offers three plans:
- 250 free monthly non-carryover minutes, one text per each minute and a free cell phone.
- 125 free monthly carryover minutes, one text per each minute and a free cell phone.
- 68 free monthly carryover minutes, 3 texts per each minute, International Long Distance to over 100 destinations and a free cell phone.
To learn more about SafeLink Wireless, including eligibility requirements, please call 1-800-977-3768 or visit safelinkwireless.com.
Recent studies have shown that low-income people who get free cell phones improve their financial situation.
In addition to a free cell phone, Assurance Wireless offers free voice mail, call waiting, caller ID and access to 911 in case of emergency. Beyond the free 250 voice minutes, customers can pay for additional 10-cent-per-minute domestic calling, 10-cent text, email or instant messages. International calling is at competitive rates.
Assurance Wireless is available in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
To learn more about Assurance Wireless, including eligibility requirements, please call 1-888-898-4888 or visit www.assurancewireless.com.
An estimated 30 percent of the annual $1.2 billion in Lifeline spending subsidies to low-income Americans is now allocated to wireless phones.
Lifeline Assistance is a joint federal program operated by the Federal Communications Commission and state public utility commissions that ensures that telephone service is available and affordable for low-income subscribers within 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
To see if you qualify, check with the carrier. You are usully elligbile if you participate in:
- Federal Public Housing Assistance / Section 8.
- Food Stamps.
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- National School Lunch (free program only).
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
- Or you can prove your low-income status.
According to the FCC, the qualifying income in all federal default states, except Alaska and Hawaii, ranges from a maximum of $14,702 for a family of one to a maximum of $50,801 for a family of eight. You will have to re-qualify every 12 months.
SafeLink Wireless currently operates in these areas (in alphabetical order).
- Connecticut .
- New Hampshire.
- New Jersey.
- New York.
- North Carolina.
- Puerto Rico.
- Rhode Island.
- South Carolina.
- West Virginia.
There is no free cell phone Lifeline service for low-income households in 15 non-participating states that include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.