The Free Obama Phone: Real or Urban Legend?

The official word from the Lifeline free cell phone experts.

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Since the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, the term “The Obama Phone” has persisted. People say Obama is redistributing the wealth by starting a program that gives free cell phones – Obama phones – to the poor. Detractors of both President Obama and of the government’s long-standing phone assistance program have fought over this claim since 2009 with each side mudslinging “facts” at each other. is going to clear this subject up once and for all with the most detailed account of the facts that you will find anywhere. When you next have a discussion on this topic, just give those on the other side the link to this page.

Is the government giving out free cell phones?

Yes. This part is true. They fund low end cell phones plans, and offset some of the cost of landline phones. The programs that authorize the phone distribution program are called Lifeline Assistance and Lifeline Link-Up. Lifeline Assistance helps pay monthly phone bills and Lifeline Link-Up helps pay the initial outlay for the phone and installation. The two programs are often lumped together and simply called Lifeline.

These Lifeline cell phones are delivered through relatively new, government-approved cell phone companies like Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless and Reachout Wireless, among others. These companies were spun of off larger prepaid cell phone companies to specialize in the Lifeline program.

Did Obama start the free phones program?

Obama Phone urban legend

That looks like a big fat NO to us.

The cell phone distribution program did begin in 2008, the year Obama was elected president, but that is a coincidence. Let’s look more closely at the facts.

Notice that earlier we said Link-Up helps fund “installation.” What installation does a cell phone have? None. So why is installation part of Link-Up, which is under the Lifeline program umbrella? Because, the whole thing began back in 1996 when the Federal Communications Commission authorized the programs for landline phones. At that time it provided discounts on landline phones only, for obvious reasons.

To this day the government provides discounts on landline phones for financially disadvantaged people in the United States and U.S. territories. The Link-Up portion helps with the installation and the Lifeline Assistance part helps with the monthly bills, to the tune of roughly ten dollars a month.

So, the subsidization of phones began under President Clinton, and has continued under Presidents Bush and Obama.

Over that time, the usage of cell phones rose and the costs came down. Assuming one believes in the Lifeline program in the first place, and remembering that the FCC has mandated the program, it only makes sense to expand the phone assistance program to include cell phones. So, in 2008 the first application of this program for mobile phones began when a company called Tracfone started their Safelink Wireless service in Tennessee.
Aha, some say, that’s the same year Obama was elected! Well, that’s true. But the service in Tennessee was launched three months prior to Obama being elected. And that means the discussion and approval of the extension of the program occurred under President Bush’s watch.

The Bush Phone, anyone?

How did the Obama Phone rumors start?

Just how did this “Obama Phone” rumor get started anyway? Back around early 2009, emails began circulating that called the free cell phone program the Obama Phone. And you know what happens when emails start getting passed around — few people verify them, and just simply forward them to everyone in their contact list. And the people who forward them believe that Barack Obama has socialist tendencies, so there was a willing audience. Here is just one sample email:

FW: Obamaphone… no joke!!
I had a former employee call me earlier today inquiring about a job, and at the end of the conversation he gave me his phone number. I asked the former employee if this was a new cell phone number and he told me yes this was his “Obama phone.” I asked him what an “Obama phone” was and he went on to say that welfare recipients are now eligible to receive (1) a FREE new phone and (2) approx 70 minutes of FREE minutes every month. I was a little skeptical so I Googled it and low and behold he was telling the truth. TAX PAYER MONEY IS BEING REDISTRIBUTED TO WELFARE RECIPIENTS FOR FREE CELL PHONES. This program was started earlier this year. Enough is enough, the ship is sinking and it’s sinking fast. The very foundations that this country was built on are being shaken. The age old concepts of God, family, and hard work have flown out the window and are being replaced with “Hope and Change” and “Change we can believe in.”

Variations of these emails persist to this day. Like President Obama or not, they are simply false.

And then there are videos like this one, that went viral. Videos of these misinformed people don’t help:

Who qualifies?

The free cell phones only go to those who qualify for the program under the exact same eligibility requirements that have been in effect since 1996. An applicant is generally eligible if they are at or below 135-150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (depending upon the state in which they live), or if they already participate in one of many public assistance programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, energy assistance, public housing and others.

Nothing about the Lifeline eligibility has changed since President Clinton’s days. Nothing has changed since President Bush’s days.

Who pays for the phones?

There’s another running argument about if the phones are or are not paid for by taxpayers. Yes and no, it depends how you look at it.

The money actually comes from a small fee added to most people’s monthly phone bills, called the Universal Service Fund fee. For a complete discussion of this, please read, “Do Taxpayers Pay for Government Cell Phones for the Poor?”

And it’s important to note that it does not cost any more to provide cell phones to people than it does landline. The government subsidizes both equally. In fact, landlines are often more expensive because the Link-Up portion is not always required for cell phones, depending upon the state.

Spread the Word: The Obama Phone rumor is false!

Now you’ve got all the facts and information you need to rebut anyone who calls this valuable program the The Obama Phone. Set the record straight by giving them the link to this page.

If you’d like to place a link on a page of your own website or social page that will look just like “The Obama Phone: Real or Rumor“, use this code:

  <a href="">The Obama Phone: Real or Rumor</a>

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  1. kevin says

    I like a free phone & Thank you (Mr.President Obama) for the different programs that the White House has passed. And cheap or free Internet services with the phone is awesome. Thank you all and
    Happy New Year 2014!

  2. agingcynic says

    Pretty simple. Count the number of phones under each POTUS and the rate of increase under the respective administrations. The numbers don’t lie. There are 100 cents in a dollar (unless you’re an Obama Voter and believe that Rainbows and unicorns will solve everything.)

    • scotty says

      … Actually it isn’t that simple at all. Technology has gotten more and more popular since this program started so of course more people would be using or needing cell phones. 20 years ago no one had a cell phone, today every single fucking person has one, I wonder if more people have cell phones under Obama than Reagan herpity derpity doooooo

  3. daniel says

    I’m 71 years old, have never drawn unemployment even though there have been times when I was unemployed. I didn’t have time to draw unemployment, I was too busy looking for a job. I’ve never received food stamps or welfare, and I don’t have a free cell phone. In fact, I don’t even have a cell phone that I’ve paid for. I have never needed a cell phone and I never want to own one. The only folks that really need cell phones are folks like doctors, real estate people, police and firefighters, and people that do a lot of business traveling. But most people who have cell phones are those idiots that are constantly talking on the phone to their stupid friends about a lot of nothing. If I were President, cell phones would be outlawed unless you have a good reason for having one. Other things I’d outlaw would be tattoos, men wearing earrings, dark car windows, boom boxes in vehicles, trash music like rap, etc.

    • Jason says

      I see you believe in personal freedom, I think you may be happier if you move to a Saudi Arabia you’d have a lot in common with those folks.

    • JM says

      Unemployment is an insurance program run by the government, and while you work, you are paying the premiums on the policy. Bragging that you didn’t collect the unemployment benefits due you when unemployed is as stupid as bragging that you didn’t collect the fire insurance payment when your house burnt down.

      And, cell phones are a fact of modern life. Low end cell plans are cheaper than land lines in some parts of the country. In other parts, wired service is even being discontinued. I read that after Hurricane Sandy, many island communities were told that their phone company had decided against rebuilding the wired telephone networks connections to the mainland.

    • Danny says

      Good for you. The truth about the Obama phone is that it is a NSA program set up by the last administration to gather information on all the cell phones in America. Obama phones cover every frequency of the airway. The NSA uses these phones to collect every call on every cell phone in the nation. If you don’t have one the NSA doesn’t know you.

      • scotty says

        Did you actually read the article? because I don’t think you did. It clearly states adding cell phones to the plan was passed 3 months before Obama’s election. But better keep that tin foil hat nearby in case Obama tries to force gay islamic communist thoughts into your head.

    • Laura says

      I started working on a regular basis at age 13. I babysat every weekday from then until the end of my Junior year in high school. I quit because I was selected by a division of General Motors to become an intern, for which I received minimum wage and school credits. I went to college after graduating high school and only took out one PRIVATE loan for $5000; I worked various jobs to pay the rest of my way through college. I held various jobs after college, I lived by myself, and paid all my own bills. There were a few times I was out of work, and I can remember once when I had absolutely nothing to eat but ketchup, salt, dry kidney beans, oatmeal, and vegetable oil. My car broke down at that time, so I walked miles daily looking for work. Eventually in life I got a great job working as a manager in a hospital. Then I got sick. I couldn’t work because of my illness. I lost my job. Eventually I couldn’t afford health insurance. And when I tried to get help with medical coverage and medications, I was turned away. After 6 months without adequate treatment, I developed several other health issues from which I will never be able to be fully recover. If I had received a little bit of medical assistance when I needed it, I would not be disabled now, and it would have cost the taxpayers a tiny fraction in prevention than it is costing them now. But I never gave up. I learned new skills that I could use to work from home (since I can’t be away from home for very long because of my health issuers). I am working towards being able to fully support myself again. I am a recipient of welfare, and I am a good person who is doing their best to get off of welfare. I want to be independent, I want to work. Before I got sick, I spent hundreds of hours doing volunteer work in my community, mostly with homeless and runaway kids, but also doing community clean-ups. I want to do that again, too.

      Now to the free cell phones…I have one, but I do not use it to “chat” with friends and family. I do not have a car, so I use the bus (almost exclusively for medical appointments). The bus system in my town does not run on schedules – you must make appointments for rides. Often they tell you to call them when you’re ready for a ride home. Which is what I use my free cell phone for. The only other times I have used it is when my power has gone out (which isn’t a rare thing in the area I live in; sometimes the power goes out for days to a week). And, even though I have never had to use my cell for an emergency, it is comforting to know that I can if needed.

      I do have one complaint about the free cell phones. I get minutes every month, whether I need them or not. And since I only use my cell when necessary, I have accumulated over 37 hours of talk time. It just keeps coming, the government keeps paying the cell company for it, and I can’t make it stop. That is a complete waste of money, and there should absolutely be a limit on how much time you can accumulate.

    • Mike Hawk says

      In this country, we can own a cell phone regardless of profession. Go drink your prune juice cocktail, watch happy days, snd tuck into bed by 730.

  4. Live & Let Live says



    @ Austrian Economics Student

    I noticed you check this site often. Are you that mean-of-a-person to actually seek out people to put them down? I don’t think you are, so try and be a little kinder…

    Have a wonderful day you all!

    Btw: here’s my 2¢
    I think it’s a good idea to give to others in need. Everyone needs help sometime in their life. EVERYONE. If the people applying for the phone are eligible then by all means let’em have it. Don’t be a hater if you’re someone who don’t “need” a hand out, because someday you just might be that person you’re putting down.

  5. Valerie says

    The program actually started in 1985 under the Reagan Administration. Initially it was a phone subsidy that gave a credit of $9.25 a month. Doesn’t seem like much but in those days our phone bills (before long distance calls) were roughly $19.95 a month. This was before the hundreds of phone companies and long distance carriers. It was more simple and cheaper. So giving Clinton the credit for the program is false, it was the Reagan Admin that created the subsidy for telephone service to the low income.

  6. James says

    Thanks for the free phone! I don’t know how people can live without a phone. I’ve been unemployed for four years, and thank goodness for public programs like this, or I would not have a home, food or spending money. I worked hard for almost 5 years when Bush wrecked the economy, so it’s only fair that I get help now from the government. My only complaint is the time limit of 250 minutes a month. I use that in just over a week, and then I have to sell some of my SNAP debit cards to buy tracphone minutes at the store. We need more minutes. Appreciate all that you do.

  7. Jeremy Montoya says

    Will it be called the Hillary or Clinton Phone if Hillary is elected President? If Romney were President would it have been called the Romney or Mitt Phone?

  8. joebox says

    Its not the havenots hurting the economy. The freephones are just one more scheme the haves developed to transfer wealth from sheepish americans to ensure wealthy elite continue their life and you work 70hrs a week to pay interest on printed money in hope for the American dream of home ownership. Then its a reverse mortgage because social security it turns out is the worlds biggest Ponzi scheme and they need your house back to control the next sucker. Some schemes taxpayers buy weapons and people die in needless wars. This scheme taxpayers buy phones at least no one gets hurt. Why should the world suffer because sheep need to be fleeced. We are have and havenots don’t get stuck on black and white. If so you will never figure out bush and Obama are front men for the same group. Actors in a production directed by the wealthy elite. Remember if you got wool in your stool your the problem.

    Carlos Slim, named the world’s wealthiest man for four consecutive years, is the mastermind entrepreneur behind the U.S. government assistance program Assurance Wireless, The affluent Mexican capitalist, who has an estimated net worth of $73 billion, is headquartered in Mexico City.

  9. erricca renee raemono says

    Please send a free Obama Cell Phone. To my current address.
    [address redacted]

    I live in a rural area. Please could not find a form to request the cell phone.

  10. Raymond says

    I think it’s a good idea to give phones for free not every one can afford it. But everyone needs it. Some one gets hurt. Or needs help of some sort will be able to get it. Because they have a cell phone to do it. Very good idea thank you.

    • March 8, 2014 says

      If you need a phone so “desperately” then go find a job. Since when was a phone a need not a necessity?

      I’m only 16 and I pay my own phone bills. I pay $50 a month so I can have a phone. My parents don’t pay for me.

      The hard working taxpayers shouldn’t pay for everyone to have a phone. Nothing in life is free, there’s always a catch. The “free” phone idea is ridiculous. To receive a phone you should have to work hard and pay for it yourself. Unfortunately, today’s society is teaching everyone that you can do nothing and receive whatever you want. I call it lazy.

  11. CableDog says

    I am 22, I have never need assistance from anyone. I have worked my whole life for what I have. all of my so called Peers that use programs like this are annoying. I have survived just fine. I make a good living for myself. I pay for my own apartment, my own food, my own cell phone bill and living expenses. my parents have never helped me ether besides giving me advice. I have been living in this world by myself and supporting myself without the help of the government or family. so I ask you this, If I can have a full time job and go to school full time, why cant my peers? why? I find it completely unexceptionable for them not to! When I get done with college, I will have my Degree and my 6 years of experience in my career. soooo please don’t tell me that my age group needs that stuff, they can earn it if they want to.
    If a Village is going to survive, we all need to pull our own weight, not count on someone else to pull the weight for us.

  12. Rick says

    Boy it must have been terrible for you working in those sweatshops at age 3, and i am very sorry that your parents were such deadbeats to make you work at such a young age by not EVER giving you anything….TOOL

  13. Dee says

    You’ve worked your WHOLE life???


    You’re 22. You’re a child and are in no position to judge others.

    And learn the proper meaning of the village reference. Or do you think because a friend abuses a program that it should be denied to a thousand others who really NEED it.

    Tool is right. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, little boy.

  14. lk says

    since you don’t believe your age group doesn’t need any gov help I guess you’re not accepting any subsidized student loans or grants?just saying

  15. SZ says

    Great job!!! I am sure your parents are very proud of you and you should be as well. I understand what you are saying and I am 52. I have worked my entire life, loved, had hard times and success, but you must , absolutely must count on yourself not the government. It really is a mindset, a since of pride and ethics. Not to say we never ever need assistance, illness is a great example of that, but that should be the extreme. I know, because I see it in my profession day in and day out, this is not what happens. People that are able but just not willing is getting assistance, we all know it, some just do not like to admit it happens.

  16. Joe Jones says

    “my parents have never helped me ether besides giving me advice. I have been living in this world by myself and supporting myself without the help of the government or family.” Really? Were you born in the woods and raised by wolves. I bet your parents would be disappointed to hear that they spent all that time and money feeding and clothing you, providing you with health care and an education, transportation, recreation and a roof over your head when all along you could have done it all on your own. And the tax payers are relieved that you don’t use any government services like police and fire protection, you never use any public streets and you only drink water from your private well and only use the outhouse in your backyard.

  17. Austrian Economics Student says

    It was a metaphor obviously, and also, more than his friend abuses it. You’re the immature one for living off of the backs of others, socialist.

  18. ryan says

    It’s all so very simple! These and ALL new phones are GPS. The free hand out is a simple way of tracking and peeping into others lives. Think about it! By giving a free phone to millions…they now have them on the radar too!

  19. sharonburns says

    As a Canadian I agree most people do not now the meaning of socialist.
    Socialist means some of the programs the government are giving people actually HELP them.
    If born without those programs it has bin proven they have higher the rate of crimes. Like in the states!!
    You can put 2 cities same amount of people and crime is 10 times higher.
    Most people in the US see the word socialist and think “communist” not the same. Capitalists have caused more damage to the US not it’s more like a fascist Gov now. The bankruptcy law was written with help from banks. The energy laws were written by Enron. So a few large corps are making the rules with the lobbyist in corrupt. American are not FREE..

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