The guidelines for the Lifeline Program or the Free Government Cell Phone Program has received a major update in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. USAC understands that its more difficult to move around now and fulfill the requirements, so this measure was put in place to ensure that low-income consumers can still enjoy this beneficial service. The FCC released a waiver to answer this need, which simply put, changes how you can apply for or continue your Free Government Cell Phone benefit. You’ll need to act soon because the benefit will disappear (see note below).
Lifeline Program Changes for the Pandemic
The FCC’s waiver aims to make applying and maintaining a Lifeline Program account easier for you during this trying time. This is to ensure that affordable communication services are continuous, so citizens can use their lines for telemedicine, telework, and online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The waiver has been available since August 17, but it has been extended until November 30, 2020, or until further notice.
The waiver contains the following support measures:
More Flexibility for Consumers – the FCC and USAC recently adjusted the income and identification requirements in applying for a free government cell phone. This allows users who were recently unemployed or who are practicing social distancing to avail of this benefit easily.
Consumers can use three consecutive months of income documentation to prove their income eligibility. However, those who do not have continuous income documentation can provide an unofficial document that confirms their income information. You can also include a notice of unemployment document or notice of a successfully submitted application for unemployment benefits.
The document you can use must have your name or the benefit qualifying person’s name, the current income information, and a date within the last three months.
USAC and the Lifeline Service Program provides will also accept identity documentation such as driver’s licenses and state identification IDs that have expired on or after March 1, 2020. It is understandable that you may have missed your renewal due to the COVID-19 related lockdowns or if you are practicing social distancing.
Continued Services for Consumers – the FCC temporarily paused Lifeline Program integrity reviews, usage, recertification, and re-verification requirements to stop de-enrollment. This means that your Lifeline Program benefit will not be de-enrolled or stopped for common reasons, and you don’t have to recertify your account if your anniversary date falls between April 14, 2020, and February 28, 2021.
Similarly, service provides are to stop their outreach to subscribers for re-verification and the resulting de-enrollment if you fail to comply. This ensures that you can continue to use your Lifeline Program benefit during the waiver period.
State Agency Access to the National Verifier – The FCC and USAC has eased access to the Lifeline National Verifier so state agencies can better help consumers apply for the Lifeline Program. This will allow state agencies to assist you in signing up, submitting online applications, and uploading eligibility documents, similar to how service providers process your application.
Relief for Rural and Tribal Consumers – The FCC temporarily waived its requirements to complete documentation for users residing on Tribal lands or in rural areas. This means that service provides can immediately begin to provide free government cell phone service to users who are not able to provide the complete documents necessary for the application.
You can already start receiving free government cellphones as soon as you have applied even if you have not completed the required documents. However, you will only have 45 days to submit the missing papers to ensure that your Lifetime Program benefit will continue.
Note: These waivers are in effect now until Monday, November 30, 2020, or until further notice. You can consult our guides on how to get a free government cell phone. You will also find the different service providers in each state and their contact details in this article.