Having a phone these days is a necessity especially when you need to make emergency calls. This is especially true for seniors, some of whom might be financially challenged and not able to afford the cost of a phone or its upkeep. The good news is that free cell phones for seniors are available for those who qualify.
Or, in case you want to cut your phone bill in half — Tello Mobile has no-contract plans that start at $5 per month.
There are many ways a senior can get a free smartphone but the most reliable is through the Lifeline program, a government federal program that provides mobile phones to low earning citizens with a view of making telecommunication services available to all Americans so as to improve access to free education, jobs, and other opportunities.
Lifeline is the FCC’s program to help make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers. Lifeline provides subscribers a discount on monthly telephone service, broadband Internet service, or bundled voice-broadband packages purchased from participating wireline or wireless providers. The discount helps ensure that low-income consumers can afford 21st-century broadband and the access it provides to jobs, healthcare, and educational resources.
Even though this program is not specifically targeted at providing seniors with free phones, many senior citizens can qualify for it and get free smartphones.
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How Lifeline Works
Lifeline provides up to a $9.25 monthly discount on service for eligible low-income subscribers and up to $34.25 per month for those on Tribal lands.
Subscribers may receive a Lifeline discount on either a wireline or a wireless service, but they may not receive a discount on both services at the same time.
Lifeline also supports broadband Internet service and broadband-voice bundles. FCC rules prohibit more than one Lifeline service per household.
Lifeline is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, commonwealth, territory, and on Tribal lands.
The Lifeline program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). USAC is responsible for helping consumers apply for the program, understand eligibility requirements, and keep their benefits current through an annual recertification process. USAC’s website provides additional information regarding the program, including program requirements.
To participate in the Lifeline program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in certain federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, or certain Tribal Programs.
You can see if you are eligible by reviewing the information available at lifelinesupport.org (click “Do I Qualify?”).
In order to be eligible to get free smartphones for seniors, the Application to the Lifeline Program is done through your participating local telephone company. The company will be reimbursed for the difference between the normal charge for the service and the discounted rate offered to the senior. The telephone company will need to file Form 497 either monthly or quarterly to claim the reimbursement.
There are many telephone operators that provide services under the Lifeline Program but the most reliable are Assurance Wireless, SafeLink Wireless, Budget Wireless, and enTouch Wireless.
These companies follow the criteria set by the Lifeline Program to gauge your eligibility for a free phone. The whole process takes around five days. Once you are deemed eligible for a free phone from the government, you will receive, from these operators, a free phone which has free monthly 250 voice minutes, with the option of purchasing more minutes at a cheaper rate if needed.
The telephone operators offer similar benefits since they belong to the same federal program and the only difference that can be seen is in regards to the variety of phones on offer and customer care services.
However, Budget Wireless further provides an option of upgrading your phone to a Google Android smartphone on payment of a certain fee. In addition, enTouch Wireless has phones that cater to seniors with hearing problems and those using hearing aids.
If you wanted to get a budget android phone, here are some of the cheap options on Amazon.
Lifeline During Coronavirus Pandemic
To help keep Americans connected during the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC has temporarily waived recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, subscriber usage, income documentation, and documentation requirements for subscribers residing in rural areas on Tribal lands, and has extended those waivers until June 30, 2021.
Six FCC orders, the latest of which was released Feb. 24, 2021 (download PDF: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-21-229A1.pdf), will help ensure that no current Lifeline subscribers are involuntarily removed from the Lifeline program during this time of national crisis. The orders also direct the Lifeline program administrator to pause any involuntary de-enrollment of existing subscribers until that date.
The FCC has also made it easier for individuals who have lost their employment during the coronavirus pandemic and who qualify for Lifeline benefits to enroll in the Lifeline program.
On April 29, 2020, the FCC temporarily waived the requirement that consumers seeking to qualify for the program based on their income must provide at least three consecutive months of income documentation.
On June 1, 2020 the FCC streamlined Lifeline service enrollment for consumers living in rural Tribal areas. These changes will also stay in effect through June 30, 2021.
If you’re looking for more information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit go here.
The lifeline free or subsidized phone service is available in federal default states which include Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
In addition to residing in one of the above states, you must also be enrolled in one of the following federal programs, that is, Food Stamps (SNAP or EBT), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Plan, Veterans Pension Benefits, Medicaid, Supplementary Rental Assistance (section 8), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), National School Lunch Free Lunch Program.
However, you should note that the criteria may differ from state to state. Furthermore, if you are on a fixed household income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty line, then you can qualify for the Lifeline Assistance program.
This program can also be accessed for citizens who live on recognized tribal lands or participate in a tribal assistance program.
You may need to show proof that you qualify for a Lifeline benefit using the following:
- A card or award letter to prove participation in one of these programs:
- Certain other programs
- A pay stub or tax return to prove your income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Next, you’ll have to choose a company that offers it. Use this tool to find a company in your area that offers Lifeline. Ask if your company for a Lifeline application. You will need the following information to apply:
- Full legal name
- Date of birth
- Last 4 digits of your Social Security number (or Tribal identification number)
You should also show at least one of these items:
- Unexpired ID such as a Driver’s License
- Social security card
- Medicaid card
- Prior year’s tax return
- Other documents that prove your identity
Your company will process your application and may ask you to fill out additional forms.
Lastly, you’ll just sign up. If approved, you will receive your Lifeline discount toward your bill. Your company can also apply your discount to an existing service.
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