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Discount for phone and internet services

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed November 2020

What is the Lifeline phone program?

Lifeline is a federal program that gives no cost or low cost phone and internet 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.

The Lifeline program provides a $9.25 monthly discount on landline or cellphone service. Lifeline also supports broadband internet service and broadband-voice bundles.

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

  • If you have a landline with a $9.25/month Lifeline discount, you will lose that discount if you switch to a Lifeline Cell phone. Most landline phone services allow local calls for free.
  • If you sign up for a Lifeline discount for a cellphone plan when you have a discount on your landline, you must 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 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 you sign!

What should I know about Lifeline wireless cellphones?

Most “free” wireless Lifeline plans give you a minimum of 1,000 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 your free 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 about 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  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)
    • MassHealth or Medicaid
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or
    • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8) 
      or
  2. Your household income is at or below 135% of the poverty level. In 2020, this means your monthly income was below:
    Persons in Household Monthly Household Income
    1 $1,436
    2 $1,940
    3 $2,444
    4 $2,948
    5 $3,452
    6 $3,956
    7 $4,460
    8 $4,964
       

    and

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

How do I apply for Lifeline phone service?

  • Apply for Lifeline through the Lifeline National Verifier. You can apply online or use a paper form.
  • 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, like 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 4 numbers of your SSN.
  • If the National Verifier cannot prove your eligibility with the information provided, you may need to give them specific documents to qualify.

If you qualify through the National Verifier, you will have 90 days to choose a company.

You can find a nearby provider here. You can also check with other providers if they offer Lifeline services in your area and as your current company if they can apply your benefit to a service you are already getting.

The Lifeline National Verifier does not list any internet providers on their website. Ask local providers if they will accept the discount.

Where can I find more information?

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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