For low-income households, Lifeline offers a discount on home and wireless phone service and bundled voice and broadband internet. Generally, only one Lifeline subsidy per household is available.
You must recertify your financial eligibility at least once every year. Most states offer a simple online process.
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Lifeline helps seniors stay connected to family, friends, and emergency services. The program offers free or steeply discounted phones that allow subscribers to call, text, and get help in a crisis. Some providers also offer a mobile help button that combines fall detection technology with GPS, Wifi, and other locating technologies.
Lifeline has income limits like other assistance programs and requires documentation to establish eligibility. An intake worker can help you understand the requirements of your state. You can sometimes be fast-tracked into acceptance if you participate in government benefit programs demonstrating low income. These programs include Medicaid, federal public housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income, the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, or federally recognized tribal programs. If you participate in Lifeline like Assist Wireless or other participating telecommunication companies, you may automatically qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP offers a monthly discount on broadband internet service from participating providers. If you do not have an internet provider, talk to your Lifeline phone provider about their plans, or check with your local broadband service company for details. You can apply for the ACP through your Lifeline phone, your current broadband service provider, or the ACP online application tool. Only one Lifeline discount per household is allowed, so if you live with another person who needs help, consider enrolling separately.
Calling 911 from a mobile phone is an important safety feature for seniors living alone or in congregate care settings. In many communities, seniors can acquire a free, deactivated cell phone for emergencies by contacting family members or local senior centers. Those with limited incomes may also qualify for Lifeline plans that offer low-cost smartphones from trusted carriers.
Lifeline subscribers can contact the 24/7 emergency response center with one press of a waterproof help button attached to their neck or wrist. When subscribers press the button, they talk to a caring Lifeline associate who will ask questions to determine what kind of help they need, including calling a friend or family member, contacting emergency services, or arranging a visit from an aide or nurse.
While Lifeline has existed since 1985, the program was reformed in 2016 to allow eligible households to receive broadband, wireless, and landline support. Subscribers can receive a monthly benefit to assist with the cost of the home, wireless, or broadband-voice service bundles. Eligibility requirements vary by state, but most states allow a household to receive only one discount per telephone and broadband account.
While Lifeline was initially focused on voice telephony, recent reforms have allowed the program to also support broadband service (and bundled phone and internet) for qualified households. To qualify for Lifeline, you or someone in your household must receive assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, or certain Tribal programs. Proof of eligibility is typically required, such as pay stubs, a tax return, or a letter or card from one of the accepted assistance programs.
A household is an individual living together at the same address and sharing income and expenses. This includes married couples, roommates, and families. However, only one Lifeline discount is provided per household. If you currently receive landline phone assistance and decide to sign up for a mobile Lifeline plan, you must cancel your other service immediately.
Depending on your state’s rules, you may have to recertify your eligibility yearly. You’ll get a reminder from the National Verifier or your carrier that it’s time to do so, and you’ll likely be asked to provide documentation to prove your income eligibility. The good news is that many carriers now allow you to proactively self-verify your status, avoiding the need for paper verification.
One of the biggest problems that many seniors face is isolation. A lack of regular social interaction can lead to depression, dementia, and even death in severe cases. For many seniors, a lifeline phone provides a vital link to friends and family, emergency services, healthcare providers, and government benefits and programs. Fortunately, organizations and companies are taking steps to help combat the effects of COVID-19 by providing free smartphones or discounted cellular plans to seniors at high risk for isolation. In addition to reducing the need for costly home telephones, these phones can also be used to access social media and video conferencing apps to connect with loved ones or stay up-to-date on local news.
Other wireless options include Consumer Cellular’s unlimited talk and text plan, available to eligible AARP members for only $25 monthly. In addition, Assurance Wireless offers a complimentary Android smartphone with monthly service for eligible low-income households. Whether you sign up for a cellular plan or landline, remember that only one Lifeline discount is allowed per household. This includes anyone who lives with you and shares your income or expenses, including children, adults, and relatives.