Get a Free Cell Phone from the Government If You Qualify


All new subscribers must demonstrate that they are eligible. In some states, a subscriber’s eligibility may be able to be confirmed through a database. Where a database is not available, subscribers must show proof of eligibility by demonstrating that they meet the income qualifications or participate in a qualifying program listed below.

If you get Lifeline for phone service, you can get the benefit for one mobile phone or one home phone, but not both.  If you get Lifeline for internet service, you can get the benefit for your mobile phone or your home connection, but not both.  If you get Lifeline for bundled phone and internet service, you can get the benefit for your mobile phone bundled service or your home bundled service, but not both.

As early as in the 1985, the F.C.C.’s Lifeline Program provides low-income families with very low-cost or with the support of free cell phone service providers and no cost phone service. In 2008, free cell phones were added to the program. These leaves qualified candidate to choose a landline or a free cell phone but not both. Many providers nationwide work with the Lifeline Program to offer free cell phone packages that often include unlimited talk and text.

The Lifeline Program which distributed free cell phones from the government was conceived and designed to bring low-income families the benefits of modern communication technologies. Before one can qualify for this free cell phone program, one must have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines. Enrollment in any of the following assistance programs automatically qualifies households for the Lifeline Program: Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Section 8 Housing, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, TANF, Indian Reservation Food Distribution Program, Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met) and certain state assistance programs. For a complete and current list of qualifying programs, check the F.C.C. website.

Though some debate the necessity of the Lifeline Program, enrollees maintain that a personal free cell phone is vital to finding and retaining employment and keeping in touch with their health care providers and community. Safety has also been cited as a key benefit of the program. Christina S. of Ukiah, California admits that her free cell phone has been a Godsend. “It’s a bit janky, but I’m really grateful for this little guy,” she laughs holding up her refurbished flip phone. “I wouldn’t have been able to participate in a very important internship without this phone. Cell phones were required for emergency situations.”

It was mandated in the Telecommunication Acts of 1996 that telecommunication providers must contribute to a universal service fund (USF) to pay for the Lifeline Program. Free cell phone was never part of the Lifeline Program but it has been championed and paid for by cell phone providers to attract customers. This strategy has proven very successful as the initial cost of purchasing a cell phone excludes many of the working poor from cell phone ownership.


There are more than 25 companies nationwide that provide free cell phone service and a great number of these plans include unlimited talk and text. The two largest known free cell phone providers are Safelink Wireless and Assurance Wireless. Both of these companies serve millions of customers and both are available in most states. Most states offer a dozen or more options in free cell phone providers. The F.C.C. provides a regularly updated list of companies who participate in the Lifeline Program. Simply click on your state for a list of local providers.

There are several companies that provide free cell phone in California as California is well ahead on the curve with companies such as Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, Blue Jay Wireless, Entouch Data, Feel Safe Wireless, Life Wireless, SafetyNet Wireless, Tag Mobile and TrueConnect, all offering free phones and unlimited talk and text. Some of these companies also offer a limited, but generous, amount of data. California lawmakers recognized the pitfalls of the digital divide and have legislated substantial incentives to cell phone companies to encourage the inclusion of low-income subscribers.

Free cell phones from the government with unlimited talk and text are not mere stories, they are real. Most people won’t receive the latest smartphone or a plan that includes crazy amounts of data. What one can expect is a reliable phone with enough coverage to participate in the increasingly internet-based economy. The advantages of free cell phones are numerous and one of them is to connect workers to jobs and community members to each other with much less infrastructure spending that traditional landlines. Free cell phone service makes the Lifeline Program a win/win for companies and lower-income families alike.