New York residents who meet the eligibility criteria can sign up for free government cell phones through either Assurance Wireless, SafeLink Wireless and more recently Q Link Wireless. As of February 2012, ReachOut Wireless does not offer service in New York. Assurance, Q Link and SafeLink also ship free airtime units along with the cell phones.
The free government cell phone services are made possible by the Lifeline/Link-Up program. The program was created to help low-income individuals pay for home telephone service. The Lifeline/Link-Up program was instituted prior to the widespread growth of cell phone usage so it not only applies to cell phones but to landlines also.
New York Discounted Home Phone Service
If you choose not to participate in the cell phone program you could still enjoy the benefits of discounted phone service. The amount of the monthly discount varies depending on the phone service provider. For example, Middleburgh Telephone Company offers a monthly discount of $8.25 while Verizon gives its customers a $13.30 discount. Residents who are serviced by the Oneida County Rural Telephone Service Company can receive a $15.60 monthly discount.
To find out how much of a discount your phone company offers visit the Lifeline Support website. Lifeline Support is co-administered by the Federal Communications Commission and the Universal Services Administrative Company. The website provides a listing of participating Lifeline phone companies and their monthly discounts.
Once on the Lifeline Support website select the state of New York from the US map. There you’ll find a listing of phone companies and the discount amounts they offer. While the website provides a comprehensive listing of phone companies, it is not a complete list. If your phone company is not listed there, call your phone company and ask them about their Lifeline discounts.
Defraying Phone Installation Costs
If you don’t currently have home phone service and you meet the eligibility criteria, you can offset part of the phone installation costs through the Link-Up portion of the program. Link-Up will pay up to 50% of the cost to install new phone service. The maximum they will pay is $30 unless you live on federally recognized tribal lands. Households living on federally recognized tribal lands qualify for the Enhanced Link-Up program which will pay up to $100 in installation costs.
NY Lifeline Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for the free cell phone or discounted home phone service you must participate in one of the following government assistance programs:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)
- Food Stamps
- Veteran’s Disability or Surviving Spouse Pension
- Family Assistance
- Safety Net Assistance
If you don’t participate in one of the above-listed government programs but have a household income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines, you qualify for Lifeline/Link-Up benefits.
The Application Process
If you wish to apply for the free government cell phones as offered through SafeLink, Q Link or Assurance, visit their website and complete the online application. Assurance has a downloadable application that you can print, complete and mail back to them.
To apply for the discounted phone service contact your phone company and request an application.
When completing the application, you will have to provide proof of eligibility in the form of ID Number (for the qualifying government assistance program) or a copy of your tax returns. Processing the application may take several weeks therefore the sooner you get your application in the quicker you’ll receive your phone/discount.
Please keep in mind that you may only participate in one Lifeline program at a time. Therefore you either receive a free cell phone or discounted home service. You may not participate in both simultaneously.
UPDATE: Please see recent changes to New York Lifeline Program.