Lifeline: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Subscribers

Lifeline: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Subscribersn

How important is it for us to be connected with people around us? How important is cell phones for us? You would say, a lot. That brings us to the next question. How useful can a mobile phone be to someone with their household income less than 136 percent of the federal poverty line?

A lot, so we say again. We are thriving in mobile era, when cell phones have at last touched lives around the globe and had made a huge improvement in the lives of the poor. Today, it’s not that difficult to find people who would skip a meal or choose to walk instead of paying for bus fare so that they can keep their cell phone in credit. Lifeline program is a win-win solution here.

Lifeline program was created to allow low-income families to call 911 in case of an emergency but has since expanded to include cell phones and, soon, mobile broadband. It is a government benefit program supported by the federal Universal Service Fund (USF) that provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income subscribers to help ensure they can connect to the nation’s communications networks.

The Federal Communications Commission oversees the Lifeline program, created in 1984 to make sure impoverished Americans had telephone service available to call their moms, bosses, and 911. In 2008, the FCC expanded the program to offer subsidized cell-phone service, and since then, the expenses of running the program have soared.

To be eligible for Lifeline, the applicant is supposed to be receiving some significant government benefit — food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, public housing assistance, etc. Alternatively, applicants can qualify if their household income is less than 136 percent of the federal poverty line. In fact, by early 2014, 80.9 percent of American households below the poverty level had cell phones.

Eligible households can receive up to $9.25 per month in discounts and only one Lifeline subscriber is allowed per household. Approximately 2,000 telecommunications companies provide these discounts. Consumers can apply for these discounts through their telecommunications company. These companies are then reimbursed through the Lifeline Program.