Wisconsin residents can take advantage of the free government cell phone program as offered through SafeLink Wireless. In addition to free cell phones, SafeLink Wireless provides free monthly talk time. The monthly talk time allotment varies depending on the type of plants selected.
As of this writing (July 2011) the other two free government cell phone providers, ReachOut Wireless and Assurance Wireless, are not available in Wisconsin. Although they are not currently available, that does not mean that they won’t become available sometime in the future so you might want to periodically check their website to see if and when Assurance and ReachOut become available.
The free cell phone program is made possible as a result of the Lifeline/Link-Up program. In addition to free government cell phones, the lifeline/Link-Up program also makes it possible for qualified Wisconsin residents to take advantage of discounted home phone service.
Types of Home Phone Discounts
Qualified individuals/households who choose not to use the free cell phone program can still enjoy the benefits of discounted home phone service. The monthly home phone discounts range from $8.25 and up. The discounts vary depending on the phone service provider. To get an idea of how much of a discount you are eligible for, visit the Lifeline Support website.
The Lifeline Support website is run by the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Once on the site, select Wisconsin from their clickable US map. From there you can choose your own phone company from the list to see how much of a discount they offer. For instance, CenturyLink offers a $17.43 discount off of the basic monthly phone bill while Lifeconnex Telecom, LLC gives a discount of $13.50 per month.
Don’t be alarmed if your phone company isn’t listed on the Lifeline Support website. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has a downloadable list of local phone companies participating in the lifeline/Link-Up program. The latest list I was able to get my hands on was as of August 2009. For a more up to date list, contact the Wisconsin Public service commission.
In addition to the Lifeline discount, eligible residents can offset part or all of the cost for the initial phone installation. The Link-Up program subsidizes 50% of the installation costs to a maximum of $30 (more for individuals living on federally recognized tribal lands).
Eligibility Requirements for Free/Discounted Phone Service
The Lifeline/Link Up programs were created to help low income individuals obtain and pay for home phone service. Therefore, to qualify you must participate in one of the following programs:
- WI Homestead Tax Credit (Schedule H)
- Wisconsin Works (W2)
- Medical Assistance (MA)
- Badger Care
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Food Stamps
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Or, have a household income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Applying for Services
Free government cell phones: To apply for the free government cell phone, go directly to the SafeLink Wireless website and complete their online application.
Discounted phone service: Using either the information found on the Lifeline Support site or the downloadable information from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, call your phone company and ask them for the necessary applications for signing up for the Lifeline program.
The application process is not a quick one. It may take several weeks to a couple of months to complete. In the meanwhile, continue to pay your current phone bill in a timely fashion.
Please be advised that you cannot sign up for both a free government cell phone and discounted phone service. You must choose one. If you choose the free government cell phone, there are a few things you should be aware of before applying.