Lifeline Program For Low-Income Clients – Detailed Description

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The Commission is seeking comments on ways to sharpen the focus of Lifeline support on promoting digital opportunity by encouraging broadband adoption among low-income consumers. The Commission is also exploring using a self-enforcing budget mechanism to reduce Lifeline disbursements in any period exceeding a predetermined amount.

What Is Lifeline?

The Lifeline program offers a monthly discount on one landline, wireless phone, or broadband subscription for homes with qualifying income. Participating telecommunications carriers provide the program in all states, territories and Tribal lands. One Lifeline discount is permitted per household, and subscribers must recertify their eligibility annually. You can apply for a free lifeline service in Missouri through your phone provider or your state’s website. The typical information requested on an application is your full name, birth date, home address, and the last four digits of your Social Security Number or Tribal identity number. If you need help filling out the application, your local Lifeline support center can help.

Lifeline is a universal assistance program funded by contributions from phone companies to support low-income households. The program offers discounts on telephone and broadband service, which helps consumers stay connected to their jobs, families, health care providers, and emergency services. Hundreds of Lifeline providers, including major national and regional or discount carriers, are nationwide. To find a service provider near you, click the button below and type your zip code into the search box. Most Lifeline participants can keep their existing phone numbers when switching to a new plan. You can also check the National Verifier database (operated by USAC) to confirm your eligibility before purchasing.

How Do I qualify For Lifeline?

Currently, the Lifeline program supports only phone and broadband service discounts. In 2016, however, under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Commission expanded Lifeline to include broadband as a support service and established a National Eligibility Verifier system to verify subscribers’ eligibility automatically. Consumers can recertify their eligibility annually. To apply for Lifeline, consumers must choose a phone or broadband provider that offers a discount and provide proof of participation in a qualifying government assistance program or income verification through the National Verifier.

A household must have a gross income of 135% of the federal poverty level or less to qualify for Lifeline. The family must also participate in a qualifying government assistance program such as SNAP or Medicaid. In some cases, a household may have more than one participant, but in this case, the total household income must still be at or below 135% of the Federal poverty guidelines.

All participating providers must use the National Verifier to determine Lifeline eligibility (except in California, Oregon and Texas – NLAD opt-out states). In addition to using the National Verifier, some providers have their eligibility application processes. Visit the Lifeline Application Process page to learn about your provider’s eligibility rules. A household can only receive one Lifeline benefit per year, and the discount can be used for voice services, a broadband bundle or a combination of both.

Who Is Lifeline For?

The Lifeline program offers low-income households that qualify a monthly discount to help them afford home telephone, wireless, and broadband (high-speed Internet) service. Dozens of local phone carriers offer discounted services.  One of the following programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Supplementary Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, must be taken part in by the consumer for them to be eligible. If a person’s income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty level and they do not participate in one of these programs, they may qualify for the Lifeline program.

Lifeline is a federal benefit program with a monthly discount to help eligible low-income consumers afford a home telephone, wireless and broadband (high-speed Internet) service. Participating phone carriers offer discounted services. The program is overseen by Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), an independently managed not-for-profit organization based in the District of Columbia.

Eligible seniors can receive Lifeline-subsidized home phone, wireless and broadband service. They can choose the phone carrier that works best for them. For those seniors who meet the requirements for the Affordable Connectivity program, a free smartphone with unlimited speaking, text, and data may be provided. Lifeline participants must recertify their status annually to continue receiving the benefits. USAC, or individual phone providers, will send out recertification reminders to their customers.

What are the benefits of Lifeline?

The benefits of Lifeline are many and varied, but the most important use is that it connects eligible subscribers to 911 services, health care providers, their families, and job opportunities. Without Lifeline, these low-income households are often at a severe disadvantage. The government must continue to promote Lifeline to ensure that all eligible low-income households have access to communications services. It’s equally critical that the program be properly managed and safeguarded from waste, fraud, and abuse. The FCC’s reforms have made the program more efficient and removed it from the list of 37 federal programs that are most at risk for waste, fraud, or abuse. Despite these reforms, the program is not immune to criticism and efforts to limit consumer access. For example, the CPUC recently proposed rescinding nine Lifeline reseller approvals, which would have chilled provider participation.

To combat this, the National Verifier website (NV) has automated database connections to verify consumer eligibility. The NV also offers training webinars for social service agencies and consumer advocacy groups to help them support Lifeline applicants. To find out if your state’s NV is in operation, visit the NV site and enter your state, territory or commonwealth to see a list of providers that offer the Lifeline discount. Only one phone, home landline or broadband internet service is available per household through Lifeline.

Annie Jones
Annie Jones
I'm Annie Jones, Megri contributor, cook healthy food and makeup obsessive. I write for health, fashion and finance sections of the site from past 7 years.

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