How to Get a Free Cellphone from the Government?

Ashwin Honawar

Updated on:

Free cell phone

Americans aged 25 to 64 years spend an average $114 per month on cellphone services. Add to this, cost of a good cellphone that can range between $50 to $500 or even more, depending upon the make and features. 

Unfortunately, some 10.5 percent US citizens are below poverty line. Meaning, most of them can’t afford to pay for smartphone services, let alone buying even the cheapest device. 

And we’re all aware that cellphone is something essential nowadays. Without one, we can’t perform several tasks such as communicating with people, getting help in emergencies or even shopping online for essentials.

At the same time, there’s some good news too. The Federal government provides free cellphones to certain categories of people under the Lifeline Assistance Program of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Understanding Lifeline Program

The Lifeline Assistance Program covers Americans that’ve an income that’s 135 percent below the Federal poverty line. Additionally, it also covers senior citizens and physically challenged persons that meet specific requirements of the government.

To qualify for a free cell phone, your family member of you should be participating in any of these government programs.

  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or erstwhile Food Stamps Program.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Medicaid
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance.
  • Veterans Pension & Survivors Benefit.
  • Tribal Programs (for persons living on tribal lands that’re Federally recognized)

To provide free cellphones, the government has tie-ups with various mobile services providers across USA. Under these tie-ups, you can get a cellphone device and limited mobile services including mobile Internet, absolutely free of cost.

The type of device and operator depends upon the state you live. That’s because various mobile operators are partnering for different states for the Lifeline Assistance Program with the Federal government.

Hence, the choice of equipment and plans would be somewhat limited, depending on where you live. In some cases, you might have to pay a small amount of money for the mobile device.

Why the Government Gives Free Cellphones?

You might wonder why the Federal government actually gives free cellphones. There’re several reasons actually.

  • Communications: This is the most basic need of all humans. Hence, the government provides free cellphones with limited free call time and Internet connectivity to help you stay in touch with family and friends. By December 2021, users of Lifeline Assistance Program would get 1,000 free call minutes every month.
  • Bridging Digital Divide: About 21 million people in America don’t have an Internet connection, mainly due to poverty and costs, finds a report by Pew Research. This causes the underprivileged sections of the society to lag in everything from education to financial empowerment.
  • Employment Opportunities: Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get a job unless you can provide a contact number- preferably a cellphone number- to an employer. Obviously, no employer can call you for an interview or reach you unless you’ve a working contact number. That’s one more objective of the Lifeline Assistance Program: to help unemployed and people below poverty line to find gainful work.
  • Healthcare: Seniors and physically challenged persons can find it difficult to call for medical assistance in cases of emergency. Therefore, Lifeline Assistance Program aims at helping the elderly and physically disadvantaged to avail quick healthcare services by calling for medical help.
  • Suicide Prevention: This is another major objective that Lifeline Assistance Program aims to achieve. People facing mental or emotional disturbances due to any or financial reason can call suicide prevention helplines and get assistance. This can save precious lives of people that would otherwise be killed or suffer other consequences of attempting suicide.
  • Security & Emergency: Seniors and economically weaker sections of the society are particularly prone to crime. In fact, American Association of Retired Persons notes, crimes and physical abuse against seniors has risen by over 75 percent over the last few years. A cellphone helps such persons to call 911 for police assistance, if the need arises.

You can get only one free cellphone under Lifeline Assistance Program, according to rules that are prevailing in early 2021, at the time of writing this article. However, in some instances, a household can get more than one free cellphone, if other members qualify.

Applying for Free Cellphone from Government

Actually, there’re three main ways to apply for a free cellphone from the government. However, check whether you qualify for a free cellphone before applying. And if you do, use any of these ways to apply for one.

Apply Online

The simplest way to get a free cellphone from the government is to apply online. Click on this link and select the state where you reside. The website will then ask you for certain details such as your income and other criteria that qualifies you for a Lifeline Assistance Program cellphone.

By Mail Application

It’s also possible to apply for a Lifeline Assistance Program cellphone by sending mailing your application. Forms to apply for a free cellphone can be downloaded here. These forms are available in English and Spanish.  You’ll have to submit them with proof of income and other relevant details to prove that you qualify for the free cellphone.

Applying Directly to Mobile Companies

The third and faster way is applying directly to mobile companies that’re partners of the Lifeline Assistance Program. To do so, click here to find which mobile companies are offering free cellphones in your area.

You’ll have to submit your ZIP code and state where you live. The website will display operators near you for applying directly.

Here it’s worth remembering that each operator has different set of rules for offering a cellphone under the Lifeline Assistance Program. While some charge a small one-off fee for a handset, others have a minimum subscription cost. Others offer it totally free.

Verification of Documents for Free Cellphone

Before rushing to apply for a free cellphone, here’s something extremely important. All documents that you submit that you qualify for a free cellphone are independently verified by service providers and other agencies. 

Therefore, never falsify documents or make fake claims. Providing false information can disqualify you from getting the free cellphone or even land you in legal trouble. At the same time, you can apply for a free cellphone from the government in the name of any member of your household that qualifies. 

Delays Due to Covid-19 Pandemic

Processing and issuing free cellphones from the government could face delays even if you qualify. The main reason being lack of manpower at certain government offices and those of mobile companies. 

This is a direct fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic that continues almost unabated across the US even in early 2021. Therefore, some processes such as verifying your eligibility and documents can take more time than usual. 

However, this shouldn’t be any reason to worry as long as you meet any of the eligibility criteria for a free smartphone from the government.

In Conclusion

Just in case you don’t qualify for a free cellphone, there’s nothing to worry about. A lot of mobile operators across the US have very economically priced mobile service packages with limited features. These are available for as low as $6 per month, from some operators. In such cases, you can also opt for plans that cost a bit more, if you require more services such as higher free talk time and more Internet data on your mobile.

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