The California Lifeline phone program is only applicable one time per household, and it only supports one mobile phone or one landline (not both).
Note that California Lifeline is a state program, that is managed within California and is incremental to the Federal Lifeline program. We recommend that you apply via the phone carrier of your choice, but you can also apply directly through the California Lifeline official application portal. In either case, you are able to get both the Federal and State Lifeline subsidies applied to your final bill. 1
Can I get internet and mobile with California Lifeline?
You can also apply for a Lifeline discount on broadband internet, but you cannot have both an internet and a phone discount at the same time. Additionally, there is a limit of one discount per household.
The Lifeline program began in 1985 to help low-income Americans receive access to standard communication services. In 2016, the program was updated to include access to mobile data. Today, you have the ability to get either discounted service or a free smartphone with data.
In December of 2018, the Federal Communications Commission updated the requirements for service providers. The minimum Lifeline package now provides:
- 1000 minutes of voice calling
- 3G data speeds or better
- 2GB data usage
- For broadband internet: at least 15 Mbps download speed and 2 Mbps upload speed
The FCC updates these requirements yearly based on available technology. The California Lifeline program can really be a lifesaver for those who qualify, so how do you know if it’s available to you?
First Qualification Method: Program-Based California Lifeline
If you or someone in your household is a part of one of the following programs, you can qualify for Lifeline:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Federal Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit Program
- Food Distribution Program (Indian Reservations ONLY)
- Food Stamps
- Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN)
- Head Start Income Eligible (Tribal Participants ONLY)
- Section 8
- Stanislaus County Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (StanWORKs)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF)
- The Low Income Home Energy Program (LIHEAP)
- Tribal TANF
- Welfare-to-Work (WTW)
Recently, the FCC removed qualification based on the following programs:
- National School Lunch Program
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- State-created criteria
If you had previously qualified via one of these programs, talk to your service provider at your renewal time to see if anything has changed.
Remember, with these program qualifications, you can qualify if another person in your household is the one who is on the program. You are only allowed one Lifeline plan per household, and you can only apply for one at a time.
Second Qualification Method: Income-Based California Lifeline
Under this second option, you can qualify if you meet the following income requirements:
|Household Size:||Income lower than:|
|1 or 2||$28,700|
|For each additional person, add:||$7,100|
Note that these figures are valid for the year which runs from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021. They are revised (upwards) on an annual basis.
To qualify for the income-based method, you need to provide documentation proving your eligibility. Your annual household income before taxes is taken into account, also known as your gross income. This is not your adjusted gross income or your taxable income.
You have to report income from all sources from anyone in your household, whether it’s taxable income or not. Remember, income can include:
- Alimony and Child Support
- Lottery Winnings
- Worker’s Comp
- Unemployment benefits
- Social Security
- Rental Income
- Self-Employment Income
Where to Apply for California Lifeline
What You Get With the California Lifeline Program
The Lifeline program provides discounts on communications services. Depending on what you need out of the service, you could get a free phone and plan from certain carriers. The carriers available in California include:
- Access Wireless
- Assurance Wireless
- Entouch Wireless
- FeelSafe Wireless
- Life Wireless
- Safelink Wireless
- SafetyNet Wireless
- Tag Mobile
- TruConnect (formerly Telscape)
Additionally, phone carriers can offer discounts on plans through California Lifeline. These discounts may include:
|Flat-rate monthly service (landline)||Up to $14.85|
|Measured-rate monthly service (landline)||Up to $14.85|
|Monthly cell/mobile phone service||Up to $14.85|
|Service connection||Up to $39|
|Conversion for home phone services||Up to $39|
Additional benefits may include exemptions from paying:
- Public purpose program surcharges (state-mandated fees supporting low-income services)
- California Public Utility Commission user fee (fee paid by cell providers and passed on to consumers)
- Federal excise tax (specific tax on communications products)
- Local franchise taxes (taxes paid by telecom franchises and passed on to consumers)
- State 911 tax (funds for enhanced 911 services, charged to consumers)
If you or someone in your household uses a teletypewriter (TTY) or participates in the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, you are eligible for discounts on two phone lines. Further documentation may be required to secure the discount on the second phone line. This can include providing a copy of a medical certificate showing the person’s need for a TTY if the TTY didn’t come from the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program.
Overview of the Application Process
If you believe you are eligible for a California Lifeline plan, follow these steps to apply for the program:
Step 1: Contact phone carrier
To begin the process, you need to contact the phone carrier you wish to work with. If you currently have phone service, you can start by letting your current carrier know you would like to apply for the Lifeline program. Not all carriers provide the program, so you may need to switch carriers if yours doesn’t.
Step 2: Your carrier reviews the requirements with you
In this next step, your carrier will review the current requirements for Lifeline and determine if you qualify. It’s a good idea to have all of your documentation on hand to speed up the process. If you’re a good candidate, your carrier will request an application form from the California Lifeline Administrator for you.
Step 3: Wait to receive application form
It can take up to three weeks to receive your application form. It will come in a pink envelope and contain a PIN number that has been assigned to you and an enrollment code. It will also contain an expiration date. Applying after the date could restart the process.
Step 4: Apply online or by mail
Once you have your application form, you can apply for California Lifeline benefits by either going online to www.californialifeline.com or by mail. If you choose the online method, you’ll use your PIN number along with your enrollment code to sign in and complete the application. If you choose to do it by mail, you’ll complete the paper application you received and send it in.
You’ll need to provide documentation whether you apply online or by mail. If you’re applying via the program method, you can submit proof that you or another member of your household are enrolled in one of the eligible programs. To apply by the income requirement method, submit a copy of your most recent tax return along with any other documentation specified by your provider.
Step 5: Wait for the response
It’s important to know that after you apply, it can take up to 30 days to receive a response. You are only allowed to have one California Lifeline application in at a time per household. If you haven’t received a response after 30 days, you can apply again, but not before. You should get a letter of approval or disqualification within that timeframe, though.
Process for California Lifeline Renewal
The Lifeline program requires you to renew your eligibility each year. On the anniversary of your acceptance, you’ll get another pink envelope. You can elect to renew online or by mail in the same fashion as the first time application. You are required to provide updated documents supporting your eligibility. If you don’t provide current documentation, or if your situation has changed and you are no longer enrolled in qualifying programs or you no longer meet the income requirements, you’ll be disqualified.
Examples of supporting documents
Here’s a list of the documentation that you may be required to supply. When in doubt, include it. Working with government programs can take time, and providing all possible information can speed up the process.
- ID from a qualifying program (SNAP, TTANF, Medicaid…)
- Decision letter or notice of eligibility for a qualifying program
- Front page of state tax return (540, 540A, 540 2EZ, 540NR, or 540X)
- Front page of federal tax return (1040m 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040NR, 1040NR-EZ, 1040SS, or 1040X)
- Front page of your tribal tax return
- Income statements or pay stubs for three consecutive months within the last year
- Statement of benefits from:
- Social Security
- Veterans Administration
- Unemployment benefits
- Worker’s Comp
- Alimony or child support documents
Information for New Applicants
Note that the California Lifeline program won’t kick in until the whole application process is complete. If you need service right away, you’ll be charged the standard amount by your phone provider. When you’re approved for landline phone program, you’ll get a credit on your account equal to the discount you would have received from the date you were approved for service, or the date you requested to be enrolled, whichever is later.
For mobile plans, you’ll get a credit for the discount retroactive to when California Lifeline notified your provider of your eligibility or the date of service activation. You can also choose to receive this amount as a check from your provider if this amount is over $10 in total.
Lifeline provides discounts for setup fees, but these are also credited to you after-the-fact. If you need service right away but can’t afford the setup fees, you can pay the fees on a short-term payment plan with no interest. Talk about this option with your phone company, as payment plans can differ for each provider.
Make sure to test out your phone connection right away. You’re allowed to cancel your plan if the call quality isn’t satisfactory in your area. If you cancel within 14 days, you won’t have to pay any early termination fees (but you might if you cancel after that point).
If you believe you’re qualified, talk to your phone provider about starting the application process.
Eligible California Lifeline providers
California Lifeline subsidies can provide discounts on all landline phone providers in California, and most mobile operators. Be cautious of lists online promoting particular providers, as they are often veiled advertisements by small mobile operators that exist purely to take advantage of the subsidy. We recommend that you select a major provider such as Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile, and process the discount through them directly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Lifeline?
Lifeline is a California state assistance program for low-income residents. It provides low-cost phone and internet access for residents qualifying low-income residents.
Can I get internet service with Lifeline?
As of 2020, Lifeline has been updated to allow participants to access broadband service instead of mobile. However, we recomend that most residents should instead use Lifeline for mobile and look into Spectrum, AT&T, Frontier, and Cox cable subsidy plans for home internet. Most providers have low-income plans that do not require Lifeline qualification, and going for as low as $10 per month.
What is the most you can make and still qualify for Lifeline?
The reported household income cutoff to qualify for California Lifeline is $28,700 for any 1–2 person household. Incriments of $7,500 are added for each additional household member. Lifeline is limited to one use per household.