Everyone is looking to cut costs these days. Many people are giving up landline phones and going exclusively to a cell plan. This seems logical enough, until you lose power for a week and can't charge your cell phone, or the battery happens to go dead right when you have an emergency.
The cost of phone service has risen in recent years with new add-on features and bundling with other services, such as Internet access and cable TV. With so many people out of work in today’s economy, there is help for people who qualify for low-income assistance.
The Link-Up America and Lifeline Assistance programs provide discounts on initial installation or activation fees for telephone service at the primary residence, as well as on basic monthly service.
- Link-Up America helps consumers with telephone installation costs.
- Lifeline provides discounts on monthly telephone service.
Over 1,500 telephone companies in the United States and its territories participate in the Federal Low-Income program. They are designated as Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) by their state commission or the FCC.
This program pays one-half of the initial installation fee for a traditional wire line telephone (up to a maximum or $30), or half the activation fee for a wireless telephone for a primary residence. Participants may pay their portion of these fees on an interest-free regular payment plan. Residents of Native American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities may qualify for up to an additional $70.00 in support.
This program provides a discount of at least $10.00 per month on basic monthly residential service (rates vary by state). Native Americans and Alaskan tribe members may qualify for an additional $25.00 discount. Some states provide more discounts to make local telephone service even more affordable. To determine if your state offers these additional discounts, contact your state’s public utility commission (go to www.naruc.org/commissions.cfm for this information).
There are both state-supported and federal versions of each program. State program criteria vary by state, but states that do not offer their own program adhere to federal guidelines. Federal criteria requires that participants have income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or participate in one of the following programs:
- Food Stamps
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) TANF
- The National School Free Lunch Program
For household income to be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, total income for the household must not be more than the following:
|# of People in Family||48 States + Washington DC||Hawaii||Alaska|
For each additional person in the household above eight people, add $5,049 for families living in the lower 48 states and Washington D.C.; $6,318 per additional person in Alaska, and $5,805 per additional person in Hawaii.
You’ll need to produce signed statements certifying that you receive benefits from one of the qualifying programs, or that your household meets the income requirement. You must also agree to notify the telephone service carrier if you cease to participate in the program or if your income increases to the point that it exceeds the income requirement.
The telephone carrier may require you to pay a deposit before setting up telephone service. However, if you agree to limit long distance service on your phone, many service providers will waive the deposit for program participants. This is called “toll limitation” or “toll blocking.” Even with this toll-blocking program, you will still be able to place long-distance calls using a pre-paid calling card.
For more information or for help determining if you qualify for these programs, visit the resource links below or call your local telephone company.