The ability for the financially disadvantaged to get a free cell phone in these tough economic times is moving at breakneck speed across the country. While the Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up programs were helping people afford landline phones since 1996. It wasn’t until 2008 that the first state certified a company to provide cell phones. That was when Tracfone launched Safelink Wireless in Tennessee.
In all, there are 49 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, where the government cell phone program is available to low-income and others already on government assistance. The program begin in 2008 when a company named Tracfone started their Safelink Wireless service in Tennessee. Year’s later almost the entire country is covered. Chances are that, if you qualify, you’ll find a provider that can get a phone shipped right out to you.
Check your state
To check on your own state’s providers and specific qualification criteria, just click on your state below. Some states have all of the aforementioned large companies and often quite a few smaller players. Some states have one or two companies, and sadly if you are the one state that is not on the list, your state does not yet have service. But it could very well soon, in fact, it’s very likely.
Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | District of Columbia | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | lllinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New York | New Mexico | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Puerto Rico | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
What are the Lifeline eligibility rules for each state?
The eligibility requirements vary from state to state, due to various government aid programs that are state-specific. However, these programs are simply added on to the qualifying federal programs that are available in all states. Here are the federal programs you can count on qualifying with in every state:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP)
- National School Lunch Program's Free Lunch Program
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
- Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met)
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
- Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
- State assistance programs (check your state).
In addition, you are able to qualify by your income level. Most states want to see that your total household income is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for your state; a smaller number of states are at 150%. Each state page we link to above will tell you in detail what those levels are.