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How the Lifeline Program Helps California Residents

Lifeline Program Helps California Residents

The Lifeline program provides discount telephone and broadband internet service to low-income California residents. It was originally set up in 1985 and was updated in 2016 to include mobile phone access.

The program is available to households with incomes below 135% of the federal poverty line and those participating in government assistance programs.


A household can qualify for California Lifeline service if its income is 135% or less of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The guidelines vary by family size. The program also offers a discount on landline and wireless plans. In addition to the discount, the service includes free calls to local, state, and federal government offices.

To apply for California Lifeline, complete a simple form and provide proof of your eligibility. The forms are available online and by phone. Some providers may require more documentation than others. Having the required documents on hand will speed up the process. The documents should include:

  • Current paycheck stubs.
  • Verification of participation in a qualifying program.
  • A letter from a social worker.

If your household qualifies for SNAP, WIC, TANF, or the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, you are automatically eligible for California Lifeline. You can also receive a line at a discounted rate if one of your household members is deaf or hard of hearing and needs a teletypewriter or TTY.

You must renew your eligibility for California Lifeline each year by submitting a brief form. Your carrier will send you a pink envelope to remind you when to renew. If you recertify, your phone service will continue.


To qualify for Lifeline, you must be a California resident and have a household income below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines. You must also have a valid government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or state identification card. You can use this ID to apply for Lifeline at your service provider’s website or call their customer care center.

The program helps low-income consumers with wireless telecom and broadband internet services. But a proposal by the CPUC may limit access to these services. If you need Lifeline, you should submit a comment to the CPUC by August 24. The comments will be reviewed and voted on by the CPUC in November.

If you’re a low-income consumer, you can get free cell phone service or discounted broadband internet through California Lifeline. But verify your eligibility using the National Verifier, available from many participating carriers. You can find a list of eligible providers on the USAC website, which operates the National Verifier database. A new Lifeline service has been introduced, allowing you to get free wireless and broadband Internet simultaneously. The service is available to households with a maximum household income of $28,700 for a one-person household. This is a great way to help families stay connected and get assistance.


You must renew your eligibility yearly to continue receiving your Lifeline phone discount. You will be mailed a renewal form in a pink envelope from the California Lifeline Administrator 105 days before your program anniversary date. You can also renew online. If you submit the renewal by the due date, your service will be connected, and you will need to begin paying regular rates for home and cell phone services.

All Lifeline participants must verify their eligibility annually by providing documentation that they still meet the program’s requirements. This can include proof of income and participation in public assistance programs. It is important to remember that the verification process can take up to 60 days. Providing all the information USAC requires when applying for the program is a good idea.

In addition, all Lifeline service providers must guarantee a voice-grade connection. This can be challenging in some locations, where trees, mountains, and terrain interfere with phone signals. If the connection is not voice-grade, or if it fails, the provider must offer alternate technology or cancel the service. In addition, California Lifeline participants can cancel their Lifeline cell phone device within three business days (excluding national holidays) without incurring a cancellation fee.


The Lifeline program is a subsidy that helps low-income households pay for voice and internet services. Almost 1.7 million California residents use the service. This subsidy is provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The program also provides other types of support, including budget counseling, intensive case management, and supported housing. This allows the customers to progress toward self-sufficiency and meet their long-term goals.

The program is not on the radar screen of most social workers and others who assist consumers with their needs, and that’s a problem. Many families don’t know that they can get a discounted phone and internet from the Lifeline program, or they may not be eligible for the discount. In addition, the FCC requires consumers to provide proof of eligibility each year. Keeping up with the requirements can be difficult, but simple steps can help.

The National Lifeline Association and six California Lifeline providers have argued that the proposal would “be perverse, elitist, discriminatory and profoundly harmful to low-income consumers.” It would limit consumers to one Lifeline plan and one Affordable Connectivity Plan discount per household. According to a state report, this would save $160 million over the next five years.