Why Does the Government Give Away Free Cell Phones?

November 7, 2022

Technology is improving at a rapid rate. We no longer live in a time where pay phones are easily found and accessed. The public phone is not an option, nor is a landline in many homes around the country. Instead, our access to communication is in the form of a mobile phone that is compact, technologically advanced, and expensive. 

In this article, we will break down the purpose of this helpful free cell phone service and how you can take advantage of it if you qualify.

Why Does the Government Give Away Free Cell Phones?

As our society modernizes so does the growing need for access to technology. There is a pressing need for the average American to have access to and own their own smartphone. In this way, a free smartphone program allows for people to have equal opportunities to communicate with one another.


Those who live below the poverty line should not be making the choice between fair access to communication and food. Consumer Reports indicates that the most popular cell phone carriers offer phone plans that start at as much as $75 per month. For many families, this monthly cost would come with significant sacrifice, not to mention the cost of the cell phone itself.

Providing access to free cell phones and discounts to cell phone and internet rates is one of the many ways in which the U.S. government attempts to level the playing field and provide access.

In fact, many of the uses for a smartphone in our society could very well be the difference between families remaining in poverty and having access to work their way out of poverty.

Need for Communication

These days, cell phones are required for nearly all of our interactions. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, almost every American has a cell phone. Only an estimated 3% does not use some kind of cell phone, as of April 2021.

Job applicants are typically contacted for interviews and job offers through cell phones, doctor’s offices communicate through cell phones, and schoolteachers call home about children. Additionally, emergency calls are a necessity that all Americans should have access to.

A lack of connection can serve to keep low-income individuals and families at a further disadvantage in life and can even be life-threatening. Thus, the government created the Lifeline Program to help to create communication access for those who may otherwise not be able to.

What is the Lifeline Program?

The Lifeline Program is the mechanism in which the American government provides assistance for communication to Americans who qualify. The program has historical precedent and has been in use since 1984, under the oversight of the Federal Communications Commission. However, the program has been significantly expanded over the years.

Most notably, President Obama expanded the access beyond the subsidization of cell phone bills but to cell phones themselves. You might remember the controversy behind this move in the early 2010s with the coinage of the term “Obama phones” to match Obamacare. They have also been known as the “Medicaid cell phone”.

These nicknames cause quite a bit of confusion among those who might need to access the Lifeline program, but regardless the program continues to serve its intended purpose and provide access to communicative devices for those in need.

How Can I Get a Free Government Cell Phone?

Eligibility is the key obstacle for Americans to obtain their own free Lifeline cell phones. If you are ineligible for this service, you will not be able to access the program. Otherwise, these free government smartphones and reduced cell phone rates are easy to sign up for!

Eligibility Requirements and Application

The requirements for eligibility vary depending on where you live and your income, however, being on an existing government assistance program can be a good indicator of eligibility.

These programs include Medicaid, SNAP food stamps, SSI, Section 8 Housing, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit. In addition, tribal members and tribal programs may qualify through BIA, Tribal TANF, or the Tribal Head Start program.

The best way to determine if you are eligible for Lifeline is to review this ‘Do I Qualify?’ Questionnaire. Once you have figured out whether or not you qualify, you can then apply for Lifeline through the online portal or through mail.

If you need assistance with your Lifeline application, you can call the Lifeline Support Center at 1 800 234-9473. Alternatively, you can email them at LifelineSupport@usac.org.

Accessing Free Government Smartphones

After filling out your application for Lifeline, you can find a provider for your free government smartphone. These providers work directly with the Lifeline program in order to deliver free phones and accessible data and communication to American Lifeline consumers.

One of the best Lifeline cell phone service providers is SafeLink Wireless. The SafeLink program is operated through TracFone Wireless and is happy to support the Lifeline program and provide support to eligible families.

Through the Lifeline program, SafeLink will offer you a free smartphone, SIM card, and minutes, data, and texts for those that qualify. SafeLink is also able to move over existing devices to their service for eligible families through an adjacent program, known as the Keep Your Own Smartphone plan.

Programs like SafeLink are paid the eligible Lifeline amount from the government and then the low-income individual is responsible for the rest of their bill for their own low income cell phone service. One of the many reasons why consumers choose SafeLink is the lack of bills or contracts due to SafeLink providing a prepaid service.


While it may come as a surprise to you, free cell phones from the government are available to Americans who qualify for this unique communication assistance program. The purpose of this program is to allow Americans to stay connected and maintain the ability to communicate.

Those that are eligible for the Lifeline program can receive free cell phones and assistance with their cell phone bill. If you are interested in beginning the process to enroll in the SafeLink program, you can find more information here.

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