The Lifeline Program, popularly called Obama Phone in recent years, was started almost 40 years ago as a way to help Americans stay connected with phone service.
- 10 Facts About the Lifeline Program
- 10 Facts About the Lifeline Program
- 1. No tax dollars are used to pay for wireless Lifeline
- 2. 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans
- 3. 76% of Lifeline subscribers qualified for Lifeline through SNAP or Medicaid
- 4. Montana is the only state that doesn’t offer Lifeline to the public
- 5. Lifeline was started by the Reagan Administration in 1985
- 6. Participation in Lifeline is still low
- 7. Access to phone service through Lifeline can save lives
- 8. Lifeline is closing opportunity gaps in America
- 9. You do not have to be a US Citizen to benefit from Lifeline
- 10. Not all Lifeline Programs have a 250 minute limit on talking minutes
- Benefits of the Lifeline Program
- Lifeline Program Facts
10 Facts About the Lifeline Program
- No tax dollars are used to pay for wireless Lifeline
- 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans
- 76% of Lifeline subscribers qualified for Lifeline through SNAP or Medicaid
- Montana is the only state that doesn’t offer Lifeline to the public
- Lifeline was started by the Reagan Administration in 1985
- Participation in Lifeline is still low
- Access to phone service through Lifeline can save lives
- Lifeline is closing opportunity gaps in America
- You do not have to be a US Citizen to benefit from Lifeline
- Not all Lifeline Programs have a 250 minute limit on talking minutes
The Lifeline Program provides eligible low income consumers with a free cell phone or internet service if they fall within 135% of the Federal Poverty Guideline or can show proof of participation in a government benefits program such as SNAP or Medicaid. President Obama has become associated with the Lifeline Program for a number of reasons, the most likely one being just that cell phone usage greatly increased during his tenure, and the Lifeline Program began to subsidize wireless mobile service.
Also, since Obama’s administration facilitated health care for individuals without health care, his name has become synonymous with connecting low income households with services that most people take for granted—like phone service. But as we’ll see, the Lifeline Program actually has older roots going back to the Reagan Administration and arguable even beyond that. It has continued to do great work in improving the quality of life for eligible low income consumers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Let’s take a look now at some of the most interesting facts around Lifeline.
10 Facts About the Lifeline Program
1. No tax dollars are used to pay for wireless Lifeline
Contrary to popular belief, Lifeline is not a taxpayer funded program like other types of social services. Telecom companies fund the Lifeline Program through the Universal Service Fund. This fund was created in 1997 by the FCC as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and it requires telecom companies like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon to contribute 25% of their profits to the fund for subsidizing connectivity services for low income households, like phone service or broadband internet service.
2. 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans
Lifeline is indispensable to certain veterans for a variety of reasons. With many Lifeline subscribers using the program to access the internet on a phone or computer, they can scroll through job boards or be responsive to job offers. Lifeline makes it easier for veterans to access telehealth services that are vital to their ongoing physical well being. Lifeline is also important to veterans’ mental health as well, allowing them to get the help they need or connect with friends.
3. 76% of Lifeline subscribers qualified for Lifeline through SNAP or Medicaid
While qualifying for Lifeline requires applicants to show their gross household income is 135% within the Federal Poverty Level for their family size and location, another way to qualify right away is through showing enrollment in a benefits program like SNAP food stamps or Medicaid. As these programs themselves are often provided to low income households under a certain income threshold, it only makes sense that enrollment therein could also secure a free cell phone through the Lifeline Program.
Other programs include temporary assistance, unemployment benefits, or a veterans pension. While these benefit programs provide assistance to individuals or an eligible household in terms of food, shelter, and health coverage, Lifeline improves their situation through access to telephone usage, which in many cases, is also necessary for effectively retaining these benefits, as some of these assistance programs require phone interviews or period check-ins. Without Lifeline, many eligible low income consumers would find it difficult to retain the benefits that qualified them for Lifeline in the first place.
4. Montana is the only state that doesn’t offer Lifeline to the public
Lifeline benefits are available in almost every state and Puerto Rico, except for Montana. While Montana does offer Lifeline through its vendors to Tribal members, it currently does not offer Lifeline to individual low income consumers. That said, you can get a Lifeline phone or internet service in any of the other 49 states, so if you’re wondering how to get an Obama Phone, the answer is as simple as conducting a quick search of providers in your state.
5. Lifeline was started by the Reagan Administration in 1985
Though the free cell phone program known as Lifeline is popularly referred to as Obama Phone, the program was not started during the Obama Administration. It was the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that started the Lifeline Program under Reagan in 1985 to subsidize landline phone service for low income Americans through discounts. Over the next few decades, the Lifeline Program was expanded to include cell phone service. In fact, by 2021, the voice-only option for Lifeline plans will be mostly discontinued as consumers are phased into voice and broadband packages.
6. Participation in Lifeline is still low
As of just a few years ago, roughly 46% of American households qualified for Lifeline, but participation in the program was only at 27%. That means just around 12 million households were taking advantage of the Lifeline Program. In recent years, there has been more discussion about creating a co-pay requirement or limiting Lifeline enrollment to those in the SNAP program.
These tighter eligibility requirements would be part of a greater attempt to cut down on some of the fraud that has sometimes peppered the program’s history, with everything from subscribers getting two phones or underreporting their income to telecom providers submitting a claim to be subsidized for individuals not using the program. The government is currently in discussion about how to cut down on this fraudulent activity without creating too many barriers to prevent eligible subscribers from taking advantage of the program.
7. Access to phone service through Lifeline can save lives
To give you an idea of how impactful Lifeline has been in terms of connecting low income households to emergency services, a 2012 study of subscribers in Georgia found that almost 800 calls to hospitals or law enforcement were made per day—and that’s just in one state.
Lifeline is not just important for emergency responses, but it facilitates ongoing healthcare as well. Studies have found that more than half of Lifeline subscribers use their service to arrange appointments or connect with medical practitioners to get questions answered. Lifeline is also beneficial for elderly subscribers and/or those in rural areas who cannot afford a phone plan and need access to ongoing medical care.
8. Lifeline is closing opportunity gaps in America
Within the past decade, more than half of Lifeline subscribers have said that having a cell phone has helped them find and retain employment and improve their financial situation. Lifeline makes it easier for households to bridge gaps in accessing educational resources, and has empowered disenfranchised communities. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has stated: “Whether the focus is jobs, health, or public safety, wireless Lifeline is critical to millions of low-income Hispanics.” Americans in rural areas or federally recognized tribal land without broadband internet access service can also obtain broadband service from a lifeline provider.
9. You do not have to be a US Citizen to benefit from Lifeline
US Citizens are not the only eligible low income consumers. Lifeline applicants who are legal permanent residents with a green card can also fill out a Lifeline application with a service provider to become part of the lifeline assistance program. If you can show income documentation or participation in a qualifying program (like SNAP, Supplemental Security Income, or Medicaid) you can get the Lifeline benefit of telephone service or broadband service.
Refugees, asylees and victims of trafficking are just a few of the special categories of protected individuals who may not be Citizens but who also have Lifeline eligibility.
10. Not all Lifeline Programs have a 250 minute limit on talking minutes
The basic requirement for Lifeline service is that each Lifeline customer or qualifying household get 250 minutes of voice service on their Lifeline phone. But the reality is that the federal Lifeline program offers a range of choices, with dozens of Lifeline service providers each offering different packages to their low income subscribers.
Needy families in different states can explore different benefits ranging from unlimited minutes and unlimited texting to international calling to 3GB of data usage, with the ability to purchase more on a low monthly discount basis. eligible consumers should shop around and compare Lifeline support carriers to others in their area to see which one offers the best deals.
Benefits of the Lifeline Program
The Lifeline Program is connecting Americans who could otherwise not afford it with a free cell phone and a phone plan. The average cell phone bill for a single consumer is around $70 per month, and as much as $180 (or more) or a family with multiple lines. This is a serious expense for a family of limited financial means. Additionally, recent reports have indicated that as many as 19 million Americans lack access to adequate internet service or don’t have internet service at all.
These statistics are more acute in rural areas, with almost 15 million Americans (of that 19 million) lacking access to the internet—and one of the reasons is that broadband is an extra expense they cannot afford.
Thankfully, the subsidized phone service program offered by Obama Phone providers is connecting low income households with the indispensable necessity of phone and/or internet service. The intangible benefits of connecting low income Americans with a free cell phone and/or internet comes in terms of safety, education, well being, and gainful employment. The Lifeline program has the ability to close opportunity gaps and keep America safe and connected, and that is perhaps its greatest big-picture benefit.
Lifeline Program Facts
Hopefully, this list of FAQ has helped you learn more about Lifeline and answer the question: What is Obama Phone? As you’ve seen, the Obama Phone program can boast some pretty great statistics around facilitating safety, health, quality of life, and a better financial situation for subscribers.
The Lifeline program helps low income families stay in touch with family members and make plans with friends and neighbors, improving their emotional well being. It helps each and every low income household connect with preventative medical care by booking doctor’s appointments and accessing telehealth consultations.
For individuals on temporary assistance or unemployment benefits, a Lifeline discount can help them browse job boards, call prospective employers, and notify a hiring manager if they are going to be late for an interview or have to reschedule. Lifeline also provides instant access to 911 calls and emergency services. Without Lifeline, millions of Americans would not be connected to the opportunities they deserve and the services they need.