Who qualifies for a free cell phone?

Low-income? Medicaid? Food Stamps? Section 8 Housing?
School Lunch Program? Energy Assistance? SSI? SSDI?

There are a few rules and restrictions to the Lifeline phone service, and while not everyone qualifies for this free phone from the government, if you’ve got financial problems you most likely are eligible.

Do you qualify for your own free mobile phone and up to 250-1,000 an even unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texting each and every month? It’s very quick and simple to find out. And like we said, if you do quality, there’s absolutely no cost to you for the phone or the service.

Although it’s the cell phone companies that verify your information, send out the phone, and manage your account, this is a federal government-sponsored and regulated program, so the eligibility requirements are very similar no matter where you live and who you choose to get your phone from.

Be aware that there may be small differences depending on the state in which you live, but those differences are pretty minor. For example, while participating in federal benefit programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, SSI and others qualify you across the country, a particular state may let you qualify via one of their state assistance programs. And, if you are trying to qualify on your low-income, maximum income levels allowed in a few states vary from the norm of 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For example, if you and your spouse live in Hawaii and have six kids, you cam earn up to $62,249 of total household income.

With that in mind, there are two ways to qualify for a free cell phone from the government:

Lifeline Eligibility via Participation in Federal or State Assistance Programs

Most people will qualify for a Lifeline cell phone and service through their participation in a federal or state assistance program. The theory goes, if you are on these designated programs then you have already proven yourself to be in financial need; so no need to prove it all over again. Here are the universal federal assistance programs you’ll find in every state:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP)
  • Medicaid
  • National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)

Each state has the option to allow eligibility based on some of their own state assistance programs. For example, in Massachusetts the MassHealth program qualifies you and in California participating in the Women, Infants and Children Program gets you a phone. To check your own state, CLICK HERE.


Lifeline Eligibility via Total Household Income

Qualifying through participation in an assistance program is the easiest way to enroll, as you will not have to prove your income level. But if you are able to qualify that way, you can enroll based upon your Total Household Income. That’s the sum total of all the earnings in your household.

Most states look for income levels that are at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. But some states allow for 150%, and a couple states make up their own levels. The states that go with 150% are Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. California, Nevada and Vermont set their own levels. The rest are at 135%. Note that Alaska and Hawaii, while at 135%, has higher income levels than other states at 135% because the Federal Poverty Guidelines set their levels higher in those states than the lower 48.

People in Household All states except:
1 $15,755 $17,505 $25,500 $20,423 For any size household:

Residents under 65 $23,265.00

Residents over 65 $27,142.50

2 $21,236 $23,595 $25,500 $27,528
3 $26,717 $29,685 $29,700 $34,633
4 $32,198 $35,775 $35,900 $41,738
5 $37,679 $41,865 $42,100 $48,843
6 $43,160 $47,955 $48,300 $55,948
7 $48,641 $54,045 $54,500 $55,948
8 $54,122 $60,135 $60,700 $63,053
For each additional person, add $5,481 $6,090 $6,200 $7,105


1. Only one Lifeline account allowed per household.

2. You must have a valid United States mailing address. (Sorry, post office boxes are not acceptable because your cell phone must be mailed to a valid street address.)

NEXT STEP: How do I get my government phone?