Communication is an integral part of daily life. Our ability to reach out to one another instantly is something most of us take for granted with the widespread availability of cell phones and the amazing things they can do. From calling someone, to texting, and social media applications, a cell phone can quickly become indispensable to an everyday routine.
Unfortunately, as essential as a cell phone might seem, keeping a line running from month to month can become an expensive utility. Not everyone has the privilege of affording such an expensive addition onto their already growing utility bills, which is where the FCC, or the Federal Communications Commission, steps in to assist.
For around 35 years, the FCC has worked with low-income families to provide them with the ability to receive a communications service for free or hugely discounted rates. The FCC regulates any communications that are considered radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable as an independent body of the United States government. This gives them the unique ability to provide families with a means to stay connected.
In 1984, right as AT&T broke apart, the FCC worried that any phone rates set by a private provider would become unaffordable for many people throughout the U.S. As a direct result, in 1985, the FCC came up with the Lifeline Service as a way to provide phone service to all those who couldn’t afford it themselves.
The service that the FCC provides first started with home phone access, but as time went on, they incorporated wireless access as well. In 1996, Congress made changes via a Communications Act, which allowed for forward-thinking, amongst other things, such as ensuring it is non-discriminatory.
Various components go into determining whether an individual or family can be accepted into the program. Though each state can have varying criteria when it comes to offering a free government phone, they do all mimic each other for the most part.
The first criteria to qualify for a free government Lifeline cell phone is based on programs that are available within the state:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefit
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
- Tribally Administered TANF
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Tribally Administered Head Start
There are also situations where a family or individual could become eligible for a free government phone based on the total income. The total of the household income has to be at or below 135% of the poverty line at the time that the application is submitted. To determine this number, it is best to review the poverty line for your state if you believe that you match this number.
As you decide to begin an application for your free lifeline cell phone, it is best to look through the rules. These rules are straightforward since the lifeline assistance program only offers a phone or an Internet service.
- You can only get either a phone or the internet through the lifeline service; you cannot get both.
- The lifeline service is only for one phone per household.
- The lifeline benefit will apply per household; therefore, you cannot have more than one person per each household apply for it and get approved, or you will be breaking FCC’s rules and will end up losing the benefit altogether.
- This benefit also cannot be given to another person. Even if they qualify, they need to do so on their own under their own household.
The application process can be completed online and, in some cases, through the use of a paper form. As you fill out the application, remember to be as honest as you can since backup documentation will need to be provided before a final decision is made on your approval.
Some of the documentation that you might need to be provided through this process include:
- State ID or Driver’s License (remember that it can’t be expired)
- Official Program Documentation (ex: SNAP benefits, SSI, etc.), if you are trying to qualify under a state program.
- Income information; if you are hoping to qualify under the low-income option.
- Proof of Identification (either of those listed below will be enough)
- D. or Passport
- Birth Certificate
- Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. Citizenship
- Permanent Resident Card
- Military Discharge
- S. Military ID or Tribunal ID
- Unemployment Statement
- Firearms permit
- Proof of Residency (either of those listed below will be enough, though it is not an exhausted list)
- Driver’s License or another government-issued ID
- Current Income Statements such as a paystub or a W2
- Mortgage or Lease
- Statement from a government program
- Pension Benefit Statement
- Utility Bill
As you begin the process of applying for your free government phone, Assist Wireless is there to help you through the process. Assist Wireless works through the federally-mandated program that allows low-income individuals to continue to have the ability to communicate with each other and the outside world without putting undue stress on their finances.
Available in 23 Oklahoma locations, all you have to do is reach out online or via phone for more information on the assistance that you could receive and begin your enrollment process right away. With both tribal and non-tribal plans available, there is a plan out there for every family, whether you are able to afford a couple of dollars or remain at the free service provided by the government.
Since communication is such an integral part of our lives, nothing should hold you back from determining whether you too could qualify for a free government lifeline cell phone.