In 2011 when I first wrote about free government phones in the state of Idaho, there weren’t any. Back then the only phone assistance offered were discounted phone lines. Fortunately, for Idaho residents, things have changed. Several phone providers now offer free smartphones along with free talk minutes, free texting and data. Some plans even offer unlimited talk and texting.
The free government phone program, also known as Lifeline (some call it Obama phones), was established in 1985 during President Reagan’s term in office. LIfeline was established to help low-income individuals obtain and maintain phone service. In 1996 the program was widened to offer such services countrywide. Then in 2016, Lifeline was updated to begin supporting not only phone service but broadband service (internet).
Qualifying for Free Government Phones
Although the free government phone program is offered countrywide, not just anyone can participate. To qualify for the program you must meet certain requirements. In the state of Idaho, you are eligible for a free phone if you participate in one of the following programs:
- Food Stamps (SNAP)
- Federal Housing / Section 8 Assistance
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veteran’s Pension and Survivors Pension Program
- Tribally Administered TANF
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
Or, if your income is either at or below Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Where to Get Free Government Phones in Idaho
Fortunately, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission’s website has an alphabetic listing of the current wireless cell phone providers. You may access the Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETC) here. Although the list does not include phone numbers, you can always visit the provider’s website and apply online.
The service providers on the list appear to fall into two categories. There are those phone companies that provide free cell phones and those carriers that do not provide free cell phones but instead will discount telephone services. The phone companies that fall under the second group offer ITSAP (Idaho Telephone Service Assistance Program).
With ITSAP qualified Idaho residents can save $11.75 off of their monthly phone bill. In addition to the monthly savings, ITSAP participants are not charged additional monthly fees for toll restricted service. Also, the phone deposit is waived if participants elect to have local service only (no toll calls). While the ITSAP program is not as attractive as a free government phone, it does offer a savings and when you’re struggling financially, every savings helps. Click here for a summary of the ITSAP program.
Idaho Free Government Phone Providers
Although wireless service providers offer free government phones, the monthly plans differ. Make sure to do your research to find out which plan works best for you. Listed below are a few examples of plans offered by four Idaho free government phone providers. As you can see, each provider’s plan is different, thus making it more important to take your time and research plans thoroughly:
Assurance Wireless (Virgin Mobile)
Talk: 350 voice minutes each month
Text: Unlimited texts each month
Data: 1 GB of data each month
Plus a free Android Smartphone
Q Link wireless
Talk: 1,000 minutes
Talk: 1,000 Anytime Minutes
Talk: 1,000 Night & Weekend Minutes
Nationwide Long Distance
Monthly fee: $15.74
Talk: 750 minutes
Data 100 MB
Data 1.5 GB
Once you’ve selected your wireless provider, keep the following in mind:
- Only one Lifeline service is allowed per household.
- Recertification: Once you qualify for the Idaho free government phone program, you must recertify every year to prove your continued eligibility.