Texas residents have the option to participate in either the free government cell phone program or discounted home phone service. SafeLink Wireless, Q Link Wireless and Assurance Wireless are the three cell phone companies offering free government phones, are approved to do business in the state of Texas (currently, February 2012, ReachOut Wireless is not yet approved to offer free phone service in the state of Texas).
In addition to the free government phones, Texans who prefer a more traditional land line may opt for discounted phone service through their existing home phone carrier.
The free and discounted services are made available through the Lifeline and Link-Up government programs. Lifeline is responsible for the free and/or discount services while Link-Up is responsible for offsetting part of the cost of initial phone installation. Link-Up will pay up to 50% of the initial phone installation cost up to a maximum of $30.
Qualifying for Free or Discount Services
Texas provides these services to households that are at or below 150% of the federal poverty guidelines . Additionally, individuals or households that participate in any of the following government assistance programs also qualify:
- Supplemental Security Income
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP )
- Food Stamps
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Health Benefit Coverage under Child Health Plan (CHIP )
Free Cell Phone Service
Households that elect to use SafeLink, Q Link or Assurance Wireless will get a free cell phone. In addition to the free cell phone these companies provide a monthly allotment of free airtime talk minutes. The amount of minutes varies depending on the cell phone plan selected. To apply for service, visit their website and complete the online application.
Discounted Phone Service
All discounts are not the same. Some companies offer higher discounts than others. To find out how much of a discount your phone company offers, visit the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) website and click on the state of Texas (USAC and the FCC administers the Lifeline/Link-Up program). There you will find a listing of telephone service providers in the state. Select a phone company to see the type of discount offered.
According to the USAC website, rates vary from paying $0-$6 for your basic monthly service as offered by Sprint Nextel’s landline service to a discount of $14.50 a month off of the basic monthly service for Sprint Nextel’s wireless service.
If your phone company is not listed on the USAC website, it doesn’t mean that they do not offer a discount. Contact your phone company and inquire about the Lifeline discount. To apply for Lifeline discounts you can call 1-866-454-8387 or contact your phone company directly.
A Few Lifeline Stipulations
- The Lifeline program is limited to one program per economic unit. This means that you may not enroll in the free cell phone program and the discounted landline service at the same time. You have to choose one or the other.
- If you opt for the SafeLink, Q Link or Assurance Wireless service you must have a valid home address. They will not ship cell phones to post office boxes or temporary housing facilities.
- Please continue to pay your current phone bill until your Lifeline discounts take effect.
- If you have any questions regarding the status of your application, contact your phone company. Be aware that applications take several weeks to process.
For more information on the Lifeline program and other benefits offered in the state of Texas visit the Public Utilities Commission.