The federal Lifeline phone service program, which began providing free cell phones and service to financially disadvantaged Americans in mid-2008, has grown rapidly and now covers 36 states,the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The 36th state was just recently added, and that state is California.
The Golden State, in which 10% of the U.S. population lives, has been conspicuously absent from the list of participating states. But now it’s serviced by fast-growing Lifeline cell phone company ReachOut Wireless, a company of Nexus Communications.
There is one caveat. You won’t really get the monthly phone service at no cost — the basic plan will cost you a modest $2.50 a month. But, we’re putting it on our list anyway as it’s a hefty discount from the non-Lifeline plan charge of $16 a month. and it is certified by the Lifeline assistance program.
How do you qualify?
You can see the exact eligibility rules on our California Lifeline Cell Phones page. You can either qualify under a program-based method or a income-based method. Here are some general guidelines.
You automatically qualify under the program-based method qualifies if you or someone else in your household is already enrolled in any of a number of public assistance programs. They include, but are not limited to, Medicaid, Medi-Cal, food stamps, housing assistance, National School Lunch Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, various tribal programs, and others.
Under the income-based method you qualify if your Household Income is below certain annual limits. For example, for households with 1-2 family members, you must earn $24,000 or less a year.
If the whooping 3.2 million Californians who are getting food stamps is any indicator of the poverty in the state, it looks like ReachOut Wireless is going to be very busy in the state.
What do you get with a California ReachOut Wireless plan?
Just like the plans in the other states, you will receive a modern, but basic phone — not an iPhone, Blackberry or Android — with the usual features such as voicemail, call waiting, and caller id.
The basic plan will give you 250 minutes of airtime for $2.50 a month. This is the same plan that you get for no cost in other states; California is the only state in which a Lifeline cell phone provider charges for its basic 250 minute or less plan.
If you would like 500 minutes, you can pay $5 a month, and if you want 1,000 minutes you can pay $20. These are all $13.50 per month less than the non-Lifeline plans.
For contact information, go to our ReachOut Wireless page.