Demystifying the Lifeline Program

Eligible low-income consumers can access the Lifeline program in all states, territories, commonwealths, and tribal lands. The program is funded by contributions from interstate and international telecommunications providers, with the support of the Universal Service Fund.

Households can receive Lifeline discounts for home phone, Internet, and wireless services. Eligibility is determined by income and participation in specific government assistance programs.

What is Lifeline?

What is lifeline program? Lifeline is a federal program that helps low-income Americans afford the high cost of telephone and broadband services. The program provides eligible households a monthly free government phone or discounted service subscription. The program also offers discounts on monthly data plans for broadband providers. Lifeline is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) following FCC rules and orders.

As a result of a series of administration policies and the introduction of a national verifier, enrollment in Lifeline has been declining since 2021. The verifier was designed to reduce fraud by ensuring that only qualified people receive the benefit. Still, rather than a tool for accountability, it has too often stymied participation, not facilitated it.

The current administration also attempts to impose more restrictive eligibility requirements requiring applicants to answer invasive personal finance questions and verify their household’s use of other federal programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid. These types of changes have a direct impact on whether disadvantaged families can access the vital support they need to stay afloat.

They must ensure that the benefits of the Lifeline program reach the most vulnerable households and continue to help them get ahead. The Lifeline program has been instrumental in bridging the digital divide and reducing income inequality in America.

Lifeline is for whom?

Since its inception in 1985, Lifeline has ensured that low-income consumers can access the essential services of telephone service and broadband internet. The program is available in every state, territory, commonwealth, and tribal lands. Its rules establish a household as an economic unit consisting of all adult individuals who live at the same address and share in food, living expenses, and other costs. Each household can only receive one Lifeline benefit, which includes bundled voice-broadband services, home phone, and wireless phone service.

The program’s subsidized phone plans are offered by Lifeline-authorized providers, called carriers, that have partnered with USAC to offer these services at a reduced rate. The carriers include traditional landline providers, wireless carriers, and cable and satellite TV companies. Many of these providers also offer a variety of devices that can be used with the phone service, such as basic feature phones and smartphones with unique features like hands-free calling and GPS.

Eligible households receive a monthly subsidy of up to $9.25 to offset the cost of home, mobile phone, Internet, and bundled services. A single household can receive one Lifeline service, which is not transferable. The one-per-household rule is strictly enforced, and violating this rule is a severe offense that can lead to de-enrollment from the program. A national eligibility verification system, the national verifier, determines whether subscribers are eligible for Lifeline. USAC manages this centralized system. Service providers can help consumers apply to the program through the national verifier service provider portal or by mail.

How do I find out if I qualify?

Lifeline has supported phone and broadband internet service for nearly four decades for low-income households. Check with your local provider or visit your state website to determine whether you can get Lifeline. Typically, you must provide your name, address, telephone number, the last four digits of your Social Security or Tribal ID, and proof of income (or participation in a program such as Food Assistance or Head Start) to see if you qualify.

A single household can receive one Lifeline discount per service, either wireless or wireline. Each service provider offers a variety of options, including a bill credit or waiver of federal subscriber line charges and mobile data usage allowances. In addition, many providers provide bundled voice-broadband service for a monthly discount, often lower than just the broadband service alone.

Most Lifeline subscribers automatically qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a low-cost broadband service benefit. The ACP replaces the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit created during the pandemic and can be applied to wireless or wireline connections. However, only one discount is allowed per household, and subscribers must recertify yearly. Consumers who use false statements or other means to acquire more than one Lifeline benefit will be disenrolled and subject to penalties.

How do I apply for Lifeline?

If you or someone in your household receives one of the following benefits, you can qualify for Lifeline:

The Federal Communications Commissionprogram makes phone service and broadband Internet more affordable to low-income households. The discount helps ensure that America’s poor have 21st-century connectivity and access to jobs, education, and emergency services that these technologies provide.

Lifeline is available in every state, territory, and commonwealth, as well as on Tribal lands. The Lifeline/Link-Up Assistance programs are managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which also handles data collection and maintenance, support calculation, and disbursement.

To get started, contact the provider of your choice to determine whether they participate in the program and, if so, how to apply. You must provide proof of your eligibility, including pay stubs, an income tax return, a letter from the social security office, or a government card showing that you or a member of your household receives one of the accepted aid categories.

It is important to note that only one Lifeline benefit is allowed per household. You can use it for home or wireless phone service or a bundled voice/broadband Internet connection, but not both. It would help if you also recertified annually to remain eligible for the program. If you miss the recertification deadline, you will be de-enrolled.