What Is an Obamaphone or a Lifeline Phone?

Why Is a Lifeline Phone Called an Obamaphone?

The Lifeline program started in 1984 during the Reagan Administration by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). It continued up through the 2nd Bush administration. It was meant to provide basic telephone service to those who couldn’t afford it. In 2008, the first Lifeline cellphone was issued in 2008, just three months before President Obama was elected.

Under the Obama administration, the Lifeline program grew rapidly to include smartphones and more people were given access to the program. Thus, the Lifeline Phone became by popularity the Obamaphone.

Who Is Eligible?

According to the FCC:

The Lifeline program is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands. Consumers with proper proof of eligibility may be qualified to enroll.

To participate in the program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in one of the following assistance programs:


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP);

Supplemental Security Income (SSI);

Federal Public House Assistance (Section 8);

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF);

National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program;

Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance;

Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF);

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR);

Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met); or

State assistance programs (if applicable).

Some states may have different eligibility rules.

How do I get a Lifeline Smartphone?

You can go online and apply for a Lifeline phone. We have an article that explains the process.

You may find it easier and quicker to find one of the many lifeline phone stations that seem to be popping up all over. Many of these can get you approved immediately and you can walk away with a free smartphone. The ones I have seen lately issue an Android smartphone.

Check our Lifeline Link for locations that we are finding.  If you know of any other locations, leave a comment on the page.

Is it Really Free?

Yes, it is free to those who qualify. It has always been paid from an FCC charge on telephone and data bills.

Most plans allow for 250 MB of data for browsing the web, but this is definitely not enough to be streaming any videos. Some plans may automatically bill you for data usage over that amount and this can be very expensive. Other plans just stop your data access.

Ask before you sign up about the free plans. There may be some that offer more data and even unlimited calling in the United States. Most plans also offer expanded data usage by charging a monthly fee, which is less expensive that getting overage charges!


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Fred Hoot

Fred is a Deacon of Benevolence at a church in the Silicon Valley and has been working with the unhoused for many years. He also preaches and is a professional trumpet player.

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