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What is the Lifeline phone program?

Lifeline is a federal program that gives no cost or low cost phone service to low-income households. Your household can have only one Lifeline phone—either a landline or a cellphone. (A household is everyone living under the same roof who shares costs like rent, food or utilities.)

Lifeline can cut off your service if it finds your household has another discount line. This means:

  • If you have a landline with a Lifeline discount (of $9.95/month), you will lose that discount if you switch to a Lifeline Cell phone. Remember that most landline phone services allow local calls for free.
  • If you sign up for a “free cell phone” when you have the Lifeline discount on your landline, you will have to pay full price for your landline.
  • If you live with a group of people and there is more than one Lifeline household at the same address, you will need to fill out a worksheet to show you are a separate household.

Know the rules before you start a Lifeline phone or switch your land-line service to a cell phone. Phone companies may add extra costs for extra minutes or other fees. Be sure to ask about these costs before signing up!

What should I know about Lifeline wireless cellphones?

Most “free” wireless Lifeline plans give you 250 free minutes a month. You use minutes when you make phone calls, get calls, and listen to voicemail and call toll-free 1-800 numbers. You may use up minutes when you send and get text messages. Calling 911 does not use up your monthly minutes.

If you use more than 250 minutes, your phone shuts down for the rest of the month. You cannot get to your voice mail when your phone shuts down.

You must:

  • Recertify every year. You have to show you can still get the Lifeline program and that you only have one Lifeline service. If you do not recertify, you will lose Lifeline.

You can:

  • Turn your phone back on if you purchase extra minutes. Extra minutes cost about 10¢ per minute.
  • Change Lifeline companies if you do not like your phone service.

Be careful giving your Lifeline cell phone number to your social worker, probation officer or other people who need to reach you.

Be sure to give a back up phone number of a friend or family member. (Many people who have Lifeline run out of minutes really fast and then cannot be reached.)

Note:

Sometimes Lifeline phone representatives do not give you all the information you need to make the right choice. Make sure that the Lifeline service you choose is right for you!

Can I get Lifeline?

You can get a Lifeline phone if:

  1. You or a member of your household get:
    • Emergency Aid to Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC)
    • Fuel Assistance (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
    • MassHealth or Medicaid
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    • Transitional Aid to Families and Dependent Children (TAFDC)
    • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8) or
    • National School Lunch Program (free lunch only)

      or
  2. Your household income is at or below 135% of the poverty level. In 2014, this means that your monthly income was below:
    Persons in Household Monthly Household Income
    1 $1,313
    2 $1,770
    3 $2,226
    4 $2,683
    5 $3,140
    6 $3,597
    7 $4,053
    8 $4,510
    For each additional person Add $457

    and
  3. No else in your household has a Lifeline landline or cell phone.

How do I apply for Lifeline phone service?

  • In Massachusetts, you apply for Lifeline through the phone company.
  • You can only have one Lifeline benefit, so you must decide if you want a landline or cell phone.
  • Lifeline workers are not supposed to take copies of any of your personal information, such as your Social Security Number (SSN). Do not give copies of your full SSN to a Lifeline sales representative. You only have to give the last four numbers of your SSN.

Here are the companies that have Lifeline in Massachusetts. Some companies may not have service in your part of the state, as of April 2014.

Landline Lifeline service:

Wireless Lifeline Service:

Where can I find more information?


Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated April 2014


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