The federal government has a number of programs to help low-income individuals pay for or receive free basic services, such as housing and health care. If you can’t afford a cell phone contract, there is help available for qualifying individuals. With the increase in cell phone use, qualifying individuals now can get free cell phones and minutes without having to sign a contract. The government through the Lifeline Assistance Program has been offering subsidized phone service for low-income individuals since 1984, according to eHow.com. This program has been updated to include wireless service. If you quality for the service, you can get a free cell phone and free minutes through such government-funded phone service providers SafeLink Wireless, Expert Choice Cellular or Assurance Wireless. Eligibility and minute plans vary from state to state. Types of phones also vary from state to state. In Washington, according to Expert Choice Cellular, qualifying individuals can get 250 minutes a month for free through the Lifeline program. Wireless plans in Washington include caller ID, call waiting and voice mail.
Individuals who qualify for the Lifeline program are probably already receiving help through the government in the form of food stamps, Medicare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, more commonly known as welfare.You also can qualify based on income, which in general must be at or below the national poverty level depending on family size. Income eligibility requirements may differ from state to state. Service through these providers is limited to one individual per household. SafeLink, for example, offers three plans that all include local and nationwide call, nationwide text, free roaming and directory assistance, according to eHow.com. You can choose a plan that offers 68, 125 or 250 minutes. Roll-over minutes and text rules vary depending on which plan you choose. The number of plans available to qualifying individuals through these service providers varies from state to state. If you go through SafeLink and your application is approved, you can expect your phone in five to 10 business days, according to eHow.com. All service providers offer ways to add minutes or text messages at a low cost. The service can be canceled any time. To see if you qualify, visit one of the providers and follow the instructions. You also can qualify over the phone, but it might be quicker online. You will be asked to fill out an application and verify your income. You also will need to provide the last four digits of your Social Security number, birth date and mailing address (you can’t get a phone sent to a P.O. box), among other pieces of information.