How Budget Mobile Phones Work

Where can you get a free government cell phone?

The free government-provided cell phones give low-income families a feeling of security.
The free government-provided cell phones give low-income families a feeling of security.

Where do you sign up? First, you have to be eligible for the program. That means those with a household family income that meets the federal government's poverty guidelines can participate. Those income guidelines include the following:

  • $14,702 annually for one person
  • $19,859 annually for a family of two
  • $25,016 annually for a family of three
  • $30,173 annually for a family of four

In addition, Lifeline is also open to those who take advantage of one of the following government programs:

  • Medicaid
  • Food stamps
  • Section 8 public assistance housing
  • National School Lunch Program
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families

There are certain rules. Not everyone in the house gets a free phone. The program is limited to one free cell phone per household [source: Lifeline]. The cell phones themselves might not be smartphones, but they are up-to-date models.

Every state has its own application process. In some states, consumers can sign up by calling their local telephone company; in other states, a third party, such as a community-based organization, can help with the paperwork. And still other states let the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) handle the paperwork.

For those who sign up for Lifeline, the program is nothing short of wonderful. John Cobb, who lives in Greensboro, N.C., and suffers from a variety of illnesses, says the phone is like a security blanket, providing him with a way to contact people if he gets sick or gets in an accident [source: Richtel].

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More Great Links


  • Free Government Cell Phones. "You may qualify for a free cell phone from the government." (Nov. 11, 2011).
  • Lajeunesse, William. "Tracking Your Taxes: Wireless Welfare." Fox News. Jan 7, 2010. (Nov. 9, 2011).
  • "Lifeline and Linkup: Affordable Telephone Service for Income-Eligible Consumers. (Nov. 9, 2011).
  • Richtel, Matt. "Providing Cell phones for the Poor." The New York Times. June 14, 2009. (Nov. 9, 2011).
  • Segan, Sascha. "How to Get Free Cell Phone Service." Aug. 12, 2011. (Nov. 9, 2011).,2817,2391003,00.asp#fbid=OMmjQpLZbcg
  • Weaver, Rachel. "Free cell phones for the need drawing both cheers and jeers." Pittsburg Tribune-Review." Aug. 1, 2011. (Nov. 9, 2011).