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. This is proof of just how fast things change these days — ReachOut is now completely out of business, but ten other major phone vendors now participate in California’s Lifeline free cell phone program and offer some of the most generous plans available anywhere.
Five different companies now offer struggling Californians with a free phone, free unlimited voice minutes. And even those that don’t offer unlimited talk offer far more minutes and texts than you can find almost anywhere else. And because the state of California offers Lifeline Assistance companies an additional subsidy above and beyond the national subsidy offered in other states, needy Californians are far more likely to get smartphones and data plans than customers in other states.
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:
Following is a list of all the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones in California. You can see that the plans vary quite a bit, from unlimited talk and text to a limit of 250 minutes per month. Why would you not just go for the best plan and stop there? Not all phone companies offer services in all areas of the state, so you may not be able to get the top plan. All the companies’ plans we’ve listed are very good, even if not completely unlimited.
We’ve included some brief notes about each company’s free plan, but most offer other plans as well. You might find that agreeing to pay $5 or $10 a month offers you much more. So click through them all and find the plan that’s best for you.
Budget Mobile: You will get a cell phone plus unlimited voice and texts. (Click for info)
ReachOut Wireless: ReachOut provides customers with a free phone, unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texts. OUT OF BUSINESS
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:
- 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 Household||Annual income||Monthly Income|
|For each additional member add $6,300 annual or $525 monthy|
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