The Lifeline program offers low-income consumers a discount on phone and broadband service. A required FCC universal service fee funds the program is passed on to customers in their phone bills. The federal government created the Lifeline program to help families struggling to pay for necessary phone service. It has worked well for millions of households.
What is Lifeline?
Lifeline is a service offered by telephone and internet providers to help income-eligible consumers save money on monthly bills. The program provides a bill credit and waiver of the federal subscriber line charge for landline phone customers, free wireless phones for smartphone users, and reduced rates for broadband and bundled voice/broadband services.
USAC helps consumers apply for the benefit, understand their eligibility requirements and keep current on their annual recertification obligations. USAC also oversees the National Verifier, a centralized system that checks eligibility. Except for California, Oregon and Texas, which use their databases to verify eligibility, all states, territories, commonwealths and Tribal lands use the National Verifier to confirm applicants’ benefits.
The free lifeline service in Missouri offers additional programs supporting low-income subscribers who qualify for Lifeline benefits by enrolling through their preferred telecommunications provider. Households must have an annual income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. It includes TANF recipients, the elderly, disabled persons and other disadvantaged individuals and families who qualify for assistance from other government assistance programs.
Who Benefits from Lifeline?
Since 1985, Lifeline has been a critical program for low-income Americans. But the FCC’s recent proposals for the program — including forcing subscribers to answer invasive personal finance questions — would make it even harder for families to access the necessary benefits.
Your household income must be at or below 135% of the federal poverty level to be eligible for Lifeline. You can also qualify by participating in a qualifying assistance program, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, the Veterans Pension or Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance.
In addition to subsidized phone service, you can receive discounted broadband internet through the Lifeline Home and Internet Connectivity Program (Link Up) or Verizon’s Fios home internet service. Please use the Lifeline National Verifier or download an application to determine your discount eligibility.
To avoid fraud and ensure eligible individuals receive their Lifeline discount, the Federal Communications Commission requires all providers to verify eligibility based on documentation that includes pay stubs or tax returns. In some states, the verification process is handled by state government agencies or the carrier itself. The process should be manageable.
How Does Lifeline Work?
Lifeline is a monthly subsidy that lowers the cost of one landline or wireless telephone connection. Program beneficiaries can use the subsidized service with any authorized telecommunications carrier (also known as carriers) that offers Lifeline plans, including home and mobile phone, broadband internet and bundled service options.
Most states have multiple providers that offer various services for the monthly Lifeline subsidy amount. The federal poverty level must be at most 135% of household income to qualify for Lifeline, and participation in other approved programs is also required. You must show proof of these programs by providing pay stubs or other official documents. Only one Lifeline discount is available per household, which can be used on a home or wireless phone.
In addition to the phone subsidy, many states have an affordable connectivity program that offers a monthly discount on high-speed internet. A cable or satellite provider often provides it and is available to low-income households.
In its 2019 Lifeline Modernization Order, the FCC under Chairman Wheeler refocused Lifeline support on broadband and established a National Verifier to help fight fraud. As part of the new focus, the FCC also introduced a monthly discount on home telephone and broadband internet for those who cannot afford it without the Lifeline program.
Does Lifeline Help?
Lifeline is a vital resource for individuals facing a mental health crisis. It provides people access to suicide prevention and crisis call, chat and text services that help them stay safe and connected to ongoing treatment and support services.
When someone calls 988, they’ll be connected to a crisis counselor who can listen, talk with them about what’s going on and connect them to resources in their area. People call 988 for various reasons, including substance abuse problems, financial worries, relationship difficulties and issues with their children.
People also report feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Currently, 988 is available 24/7 across the United States and its territories. However, there is significant state-level variation in availability and service quality. Some states need long-term funding strategies to sustain the 988 system, while others struggle help to keep pace with increasing call volume.
Fortunately, the federal government is working to address these challenges and improve opportunities for all Americans. SAMHSA’s efforts include providing Spanish-language clinical guidance resources on the Lifeline website and a tip sheet for American Indian/Alaska Native consumers.
The Lifeline program’s Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) also promotes greater awareness of the Lifeline program through social media and community outreach events. USAC’s Lifeline consumer website offers information for service providers and consumers, including a Household Worksheet that prospective Lifeline participants can use to determine their eligibility.