California Lifeline Free Cell Phones

One big free phone provider in California is now offering UNLIMITED VOICE and UNLIMITED TEXTS. Will the others match the incredible deal?

One would think that the trendsetting state of California would be at the forefront of the free government cell phone program. But it wasn’t until late 2012 that the first company, ReachOut Wireless, entered the state. And now in 2014 we see four major phone vendors participating in the California Lifeline free cell phone program.

But the late start in California has been all but made up for now. Leading the country with the best widely available plan in Assurance Wireless with their new California FREEdom plan, which provides struggling Californians with a phone, free unlimited voice minutes and free unlimited texts.

This is great news for the not-so-Golden State with their unemployment levels higher than national average, and run by one of the most dysfunctional governments in the country.

The companies listed below are some of the biggest players. We would not doubt that others begin operations in the state shortly.

Free Cell Phone Providers in California:

Here’s a list of all the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones in California. They all offer different plans with different numbers of minutes, different refill options, and serve different geographic areas. So click through them all and find the plan that’s best for you.

Lifeline Discount Companies in California

Since California is such a big state, you may find that none of the companies offer free government cell phones where you live. But no need to despair, since you have another option. The companies below, while not offering free cell phone plans, do offer substantial California Lifeline discounts off their regular mobile phone plans:

How to Qualify for a California Lifeline Cell Phone

There are two ways to qualify, and they are a bit different than other states.

Method 1 Program-Based – You can qualify if you or another person in your household is enrolled in any one of the following public assistance programs:

  • Medicaid/Medi-Cal
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8
  • Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
  • Healthy Families Category A
  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
  • Stanislaus County Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (StanWORKs)
  • Welfare-to-Work (WTW)
  • Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN)
  • Tribal TANF
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Head Start Income Eligible (Tribal Only)

Method 2 Income-Based – You may also qualify if your total annual household gross income is at or less than annual income limits for your household size:

Income Based Eligibility for California
Members in HouseholdAnnual incomeMonthly Income
1-2 member$25,500$2,125
3 members$29,700$2,475
4 members$35,900$2,992
5 members$42,100$3,509
6 members$48,300$4,025
7 members$54,500$4,542
8 members$60,700$5,059
For each additional member add $6,200 annual or $516.67 monthy

Latest News for California:

How to get a free government cell phone in California - The California Lifeline program offers great deals on free cell phone service in California. Unlimited voice and text. Many providers to choose from.
Assurance Wireless gets aggressive: Introduces unlimited talk/unlimited text Lifeline plan in California - Assurance Wireless just introduced the best plan in the free government cell phone business. California customers now get free unlimited talk, free unlimited texting, and of course, a free cell phone.
California breaks out the checkbook, offers more money to free government cell phone companies - In addition to the $9.25 that the federal government pays Lifeline cell phone providers, California will now pay those companies an additional $6.35 to $13.15 per month for some customers.
Free government cell phone war heats up in California: Assurance Wireless enters the state - Assurance Wireless has just been approved to offer free cell phones in California. And that is good news, indeed, for low-income residents of the nation’s largest state.
California joins the 21st century, finally approves free government cell phone program - The California Public Utility Commission is just weeks away from authorizing Sprint’s Assurance Wireless subsidiary to offer free government cell phones.
Free government cell phone program creeps into California - Telescape is providing cell phones for low-income residents in Bakersfield, California under the Lifeline program. The plan gives $2.50 per month for 300 minutes.
Lifeline Cell Phone Service Comes to California - California has been conspicuously absent from the list of participating Lifeline states. But now it's covered by fast-growing cell phone company ReachOut Wireless.
$3.7 Billion in Income Could Be Generated for the Poor by Making Lifeline-Subsidized Free Cell Phones Available to All Eligible Americans - $3.7 Billion in Personal Income Lost in States – Including CA, CO, HI, MT, NE, ND, OK, SD, VT and WY – Without Access to Program for Their Poorest Citizens.

See more cell phone news.

If you have any other questions, please refer to the links in the sidebar.



  1. Porsha says

    I just mailed back my phone last Friday because it wasn’t working properly. Without having to call and wait on hold forever is there ANYWAY of finding out if my phone has been received?

  2. Dana says

    I have one from budget mobile but it’s totally defective and flips out with no one touching it or even near it. When it first started it all stopped working now the texts. and phone ate working bit the calls won’t. When I try to call someone it says “the code or number I entered is incorrect.” In those words. When someone heiress to call me it says “the number you are calling is temporarily out of service or unavailable.” Does that mean I’m out of mins or is the phone just broken?


    two weeks ago i was coming home at around 9 pm from visiting my ill sister, i am disabled,, my car broke down on the way home i had no way of calling for help as i had no cell phone due to limited funds,i cannot afford one i am 76 yrs old an has to say it was very scary for me as nobody stopped to help me,i had to walk to a gas station that was several blocks,away,i walk with a cane as my mobilty is limited,ths station man was very nice he let me use the phone to call for help,i would so like a free cell phone, to have in case of emergencys, i sure hope i can get a phone it would ease my mind when i go out,

  4. Dan says

    This is for anyone interested in joining Lifeline in California. This has been my experience so far:
    There are two applications to fill out to enroll in the program. One for the Federal Government, and one for the phone company that you chose. They are short and easy to fill out. Once I mailed them off, it took quite awhile to receive the new phone in the mail. But once I did, it was very easy to activate and use right away. The company I joined is Assurance Wireless. They started off giving me 250 free voice minutes every month and 250 text messaging a month. But recently have extended the program for unlimited free minutes & text messages. This company seems to have the best deal. But here’s the thing that didn’t work. Assurance Wireless uses Virgin Mobile which is powered by the Sprint®Network. And unfortunately there is no coverage where some family of mine lives, like Tuolumne County and El Dorado County. So I’m currently trying to switch to another company.

    Reach Out Wireless has coverage service in those areas and they said I can keep the same phone number I have. Unfortunately, and ironically, for a communications company, Reach Out Wireless is very, very difficult to communicate with, and get a hold of. I’ve tried to apply three different times, with three different methods (one through the mail, one by fax, and one on their website), and I still haven’t heard back from them. My mom, who lives where Reach Out has service coverage and Assurance does not, actually did get a Reach Out phone in the mail, but it didn’t work. Turns out the battery was bad and she’s having a hard time getting them to replace it with a working one. If you are lucky enough to get through to them and get a working phone from them, and if their plan hasn’t changed, you still get 250 voice minutes a month but they charge $2.50 every month. That’s only 1 cent a minute. And if you need more minutes it cost another $2.50 for another 250 minutes. So, they’re not free, but still pretty cheap.

    The latest good news: When I first applied almost a year ago, there were only two companies in California to choose from. Now there are four. Telscape Communications and Budget Mobile both offer 1000 free voice minutes. But Telscape doesn’t cover my area. Budget Mobile does, but they said I cannot keep the phone number I already have. On the plus side Budget does cover parts of Tuolumne County and El Dorado County.

    You will have to renew your participation in the Lifeline Program every year to be reviewed and to see if you are still eligible. And you may be reviewed at any time. So just like any other government assistance program, there is “oversight” making sure no one is “cheating the system”. Which is good. I only need the assistance when I’m not making enough money and can’t afford the bills. So there you have it. I hope this helps.

  5. Timothy Cook says

    I have had three out of the 4 plans in california. I would not recommend Reachout wireless
    there “free” phone’s are poorly refurbished and tend to breakdown And contacting customer service is a bitch. This is not only my experience but my friends as well. I left Assurance to go to Telescape because (at the time) they offered more minutes. I am sticking with Telscape (even though Assurance now has an unlimited plan) for one reason. The Assurance cell phones are new, but small. A little difficult for someone with vision problems or disabilities. As far as I know you can’t use another phone. I know for a fact you can’t use any kind of smart phone. Other than that I found assurance to be superior in every other way. They are easy to contact, customer service is always helpful and friendly etc etc. I just wish the had bigger phones.

  6. Roger says

    I am a homeless man. I make about $6/month recycling cans. I cannot prove income because you can’t prove a negative. I have never gotten any government assistance. Or a job. I would like a phone with 30 talk minutes/month (no texts, I don’t know how to use those). It would save me a lot of time because people could tell me when to meet them and I wouldn’t have to go places only to find they weren’t there. I have never had a phone. My question: How can I get a phone without an address and without proof of non-existant income?


    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      Unfortunately, there’s probably not a way for you to get a phone, because 1) you need a physical address, and 2) you have to be on either one of the qualifying government assistance programs or prove you low-income with pay stubs, etc.

      It’s a shame that someone who is poor, homeless and doesn’t take money from the government, is a person that cannot get a free phone.

    • Dan says

      Hey Roger,
      I’m homeless too. I gave them the address for the homeless shelter I go to as my residence. And they accepted that. As for your income, I would assume that $0 income would qualify you. You shouldn’t need to show any documents of $0 income. Maybe send them copies of your payment stubs for recycling cans. It’s worth a try.
      Good luck brother.

      • ed says

        But then once you’ve given them a receipt proving you had earned income by recycling . With the IRS and our present administration you may be forced to pay a TAX on those few dollars you made , but you’ll still get your phone .

  7. Stephanie hollon says

    My family are involved in cal works, cal fresh (snap), medical, lunch programs, I was given a number while whatching commercials and applied but we were told our city wasn’t eligible, but I keep receiving calls and am told we are qualified. I would like a straight answer please.

    Stephanie, Jack, ****** (16) and ***** (15)
    **** Levelside Ave.
    Lakewood, ca, 90712

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      We don’t have anyway of knowing, as you would have to contact the various vendors on this page. The best deal in California is Assurance Wireless so try them first.

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      They are to help people of low-income, via income verification or participation in various government programs. There is absolutely nothing to do with race or ethnicity.

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