This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
Rising gas prices. Soaring inflation. Plummeting consumer confidence. In uncertain economic times, it can be empowering to find a way to save some money, even if just a small way. That’s where the federal government’s Lifeline program may help.
Lifeline began in 1985 to help low-income families afford phone service. It provides a monthly benefit of $9.25 to help offset those costs. Eligible individuals and families on Tribal lands may receive up to $34.25. While Lifeline still covers traditional landline and wireless plans, the program was broadened in 2016 to include home internet service.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve learned how important it is to be connected at home. Whether it’s working from home, tending our health via telemedicine or simply trying to stay sane by binge-watching content on our favorite streaming services — having a reliable broadband connection is fundamental to our daily routines.
A discount on your home internet service can help you stay tethered to job prospects, schooling opportunities, family services and emergency care. The Lifeline program is available to consumers across the country, but eligibility is limited to low-income families and individuals. Let us walk you through what you need to know to determine if you qualify. If you do, you may find that the Lifeline discount also opens the door to additional savings — more on that below. You can also check out our picks for the best internet service providers of 2022, the best Wi-Fi routers and the best Wi-Fi extenders.
Step 1: Determine if you’re eligible
While Lifeline is available across the US, not everyone is eligible to receive the benefit. Its goal is to assist low-income households and individuals to stay connected to school, work, play, utilities, health care and other social services. To participate in Lifeline, at least one household member must fit the program requirements.
If anyone in your home currently participates in government assistance plans — including Federal Public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Tribal-specific programs (Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and Head Start) and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Programs — you should be eligible to receive the Lifeline discount.
Even if you do not participate in any of the above programs, you might also be eligible for Lifeline based on your income. Your household will qualify if your income is less than or equal to 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Here’s what that looks like:
Lifeline qualification: Total income
|No. of people in the household||135% of the poverty guideline (48 states and Wash., DC)||135% of the poverty guideline (Alaska)||135% of the poverty guideline (Hawaii)|
Once you get over eight people, add $6,372 to the last amount listed for each additional individual. Also, the numbers are slightly higher for folks living in Alaska and Hawaii, as you can see above. In Alaska, you should add $7,965 to the final amount listed for each individual beyond eight. Consumers living in Hawaii should add $7,331 for each individual beyond eight.
Step 2: Get your documents and paperwork together
Whether you decide to sign up online or complete your application process by mail, you’ll need to gather several documents to help you verify your eligibility. In almost all cases, you’ll need statements dated within the past 12 months. Acceptable documentation includes (but isn’t limited to):
- Proof of income (some options are a current pay stub, a Social Security statement of benefits or a tax return). Note: If the paperwork does not cover a full year of income, it must reflect three consecutive months.
- Proof of program participation (including a notice letter of participation or statement of benefits).
Keep these documents and make copies to send. The complete list of acceptable documents is available online via the Lifeline Support Center.
Step 3: Sign up for Lifeline
For the most part, to apply for Lifeline broadband benefits, you can apply online through the Lifeline National Verifier, an application system set up by the Federal Communications Commission and run by the Universal Service Administrative Company. You can go onto the site, enter your name, address and identifying information and begin the process of qualifying for benefits. The two exceptions are Oregon and Texas. Applicants from those two regions must go through their states’ specific application process.
If you prefer, you can also choose to apply by mail. You will need to print out an application (a PDF is available on the USAC site), complete it and send copies (make sure you keep all your original paperwork — send duplicates only) of all required documents to USAC, Lifeline Support Center, PO Box 7081, London, KY 40742. You can also request that an application be mailed to you. To do so, either email [email protected] or call Lifeline at 800-234-9473.
Once you start your application for Lifeline, you have 45 days to complete the process. Additionally, once you qualify for Lifeline, you’ll have 90 days to either sign up for service with an internet company or apply your Lifeline benefit to your current broadband provider.
Lifeline can unlock additional savings on your internet service
You’ve just been accepted for Lifeline, and you’re getting the $9.25 benefit for your internet service. Great! Even better? Enrollment in Lifeline means you’re also eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program, an FCC initiative that started in 2022. It provides a $30 discount on your internet bill (and up to $75 for households on Tribal lands). As a participant of Lifeline, you can contact your internet service provider directly to enroll in the ACP. It simplifies the process and saves you the time of having to go through the full ACP application.
Related to Lifeline and ACP, the White House recently announced that 20 providers across the country have committed to offering plans with a minimum of 100 megabits-per-second download speeds for $30 or less. The Biden administration also announced the launch of a new website, www.getinternet.gov, that will help users determine their ACP and Lifeline eligibility and guide them to available resources.
The list of 20 participating ISPs:
This is not a complete list of all providers that have opted into the ACP. To determine if an area ISP is participating in the ACP, please check out the FCC’s state-by-state ACP participants list.
Is there anything else you need to know?
There is only one Lifeline benefit permitted per household. If you choose to use the discount on your home internet, you cannot get an additional discount on phone service. You must choose one or the other.
Also, eligible people must recertify their eligibility every year to continue receiving the Lifeline discount. Failure to do so will result in the subscriber getting disqualified for further assistance until eligibility has been re-established.
If you have any other questions regarding the Lifeline program, you can also email LifelineSuppo[email protected] or call the Lifeline Support Center at 800-234-9473.
For more, check out the best mesh routers of 2022.