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In modern times, having a cellphone is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity for many people. This is particularly true for those who are older and those who have disabilities. Should you ever find yourself in an emergency situation, being able to contact support and assistance is vital.
The problem is that many phone plans come with costs that simply aren’t affordable for people on a budget. Yet, with such a high demand for this kind of emergency help for seniors and disabled people, there are ways that you can access a phone plan for free. This way, you’ll never be caught short when you need help most.
Importance of Cell Phones & Internet for Seniors
For older people and those with disabilities, understanding a complex smartphone can be somewhat challenging; but that is certainly not to say that these groups of people should be exempt from using such devices. In fact, modern cell phone manufacturers have taken these groups into consideration and as such, have created a wealth of assistive features.
Whereas even just a few years ago, elderly people and those with physical or neurological difficulties would have found this type of technology problematic, we are now seeing more and more people getting to grips with their smartphones. This benefits vulnerable adults in many ways. Primarily, being able to use the simplest of features with ease allows people to contact help when they need it most.
The following are just some of the ways that seniors and the disabled may find using a cellphone easier than they imagined:
- Larger screens with clear text make it easy to navigate through the various phone menus. What’s more, on most smart devices, there is the option to enlarge the text to a more visually acceptable size for those with impairments.
- Modern smartphones have the ability to listen to the user with various voice controls. You can ask your phone to call a specific contact, detail a text message, and even have the phone read your messages aloud. This makes things much simpler for those whose hand control may be limited or for people who struggle to see the screen.
- For elderly people who may have issues with memory, remembering to take medication and attend appointments can be challenging. However, with a smartphone, the user is able to schedule alerts for various things meaning that they are far less likely to forget.
- Even with limited mobility and physical problems, it is still imperative that we maintain good health and remain as fit as possible. Although, it can be difficult to stay on top of this, not to mention manage it. A smartphone will allow the user to keep track of their daily steps, heart rate, sleep, and many other things so they can get a good handle on their health and fitness.
- A lot of seniors and people who live alone can begin to feel lonely, especially if their loved ones live far away and cannot visit frequently. However, through the use of a smartphone, video calling and photo messaging are at the fingertips and communication is made far simpler.
- If the disabled person or older adult is at risk of falling, there are many smartphone apps that can be installed which will detect a fall. This could mean the difference between life and death since more than 32,000 seniors become fatalities each year in the USA as a result of falls.
Average Cost of Owning a Cellphone in the US
Aside from the many benefits of owning a smartphone, there is a huge downside. Disabled people and seniors tend not to be in paid employment and this means that they often rely on a pension or government help. This is an excellent way to ensure that they have everything they need, however, there often isn’t financial room for added extras such as a monthly smartphone bill. Not to mention that the upfront cost of a smartphone can head into the thousands.
On average, in the United States, a monthly phone plan for a single adult user comes in at around $114. According to MoneySavingPro, this is significantly higher than prices in other countries, for example, the UK, where the average monthly bill is just $47. It therefore isn’t difficult to see why fewer older Americans are taking out these plans.
The issue is that many of these plans come with additional features that simply aren’t necessary; extra lines, unlimited data, and the cost of a top of the range model all factor in to skyrocket the price. Many people don’t have the time or willpower to search for a better deal and will often remain with the same provider for many years, but with a bit of ingenuity and time, you may be able to discover something more financially beneficial.
However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel in the form of free cell phones for people in the older age groups and who are considered to be vulnerable.
What is the Lifeline Phone Assistance Program?
More than 10 million Americans are currently taking advantage of the Lifeline Phone Assistance Program which was developed under the Reagan administration. This federal program is designed for people who are considered vulnerable and for families on low incomes. The Lifeline program allows participants money off their phone or internet service, and in some cases, a bundled package.
Most applicants will receive up to $9.25 off the total cost of their landline package but there are some people who will be eligible for more, notably those who live on tribal land.
For people who require a cell phone but cannot afford the high monthly cost, the Lifeline Phone Assistance Program also offers a free monthly service with no hidden costs to the user. This is all provided by the government. However, it is important to keep in mind that this program is limited to one claimant per household but if you have a disabled or vulnerable dependent, you may apply on their behalf.
Who is Eligible for the Lifeline Phone Assistance Program?
This federal Lifeline Phone Assistance Program is not designed for all Americans, there are limitations as to what the government can provide and as such, you must meet the criteria to apply.
There are several ways to qualify including any of the following:
- If you currently use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or Food Stamps
- Users of Medicaid
- People taking advantage of Section 8 or Federal Public Housing
- SSI (Supplemental Support Income)
- Those using the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Temporary Assistance For Needy Families
- Anyone who uses the National Free School Lunch Program
- Tribal Head Start
- Food Distribution Program On Indian Reserves
There are also other programs that will allow you to qualify but these are typically by state and you will need to check if any of your state programs are accepted by Lifeline.
For households that are considered to be low income, you may not need to be involved in any of the above programs in order to qualify for Lifeline. If your household income falls more than 135% below the federal poverty guidelines, then you may also be eligible to apply.
In order to prove that you fall into this category, you will need to be able to provide evidence which may be made up from any of the following documents:
- Your tax return for the previous year (tribal, state, or federal)
- An income statement from your employer
- A statement from Social Security
- A benefits statement from the Veterans Administration
- A statement detailing your retirement benefits and/or pension
- A statement detailing your unemployment benefit
- A federal or tribal letter confirming participation in General Assistance
- Any other official document that details your income including, but not limited to, child support documents and divorce decrees
Regardless of your situation, you will need to prove that you qualify by presenting documents that can confirm your identity, in other words, that includes your name. You must also be able to prove your participation in any LIfeline qualifying programs such as SNAP and all of these documents must have been issued within the last year. If you cannot provide documents that date back this far, for example, if you are producing pay stubs, you must supply at least three months worth of documents.
What is Included in the Lifeline Phone Assistance Program?
Depending on your situation, you may be able to claim various things on the Lifeline Assistance Program. For example, most applicants will be eligible to claim up to $9.25 off their monthly home phone or internet program. It is important to keep in mind that you must choose either phone, internet or a bundle package as you cannot take out more than one claim.
If you live on tribal land, you may be able to claim an additional amount off your monthly phone or internet cost up to $34.25. However, you should keep in mind that the discount may vary within each state so it is important to check locally what you are entitled to. It is worth looking at whether you are eligible for a $100 connection discount when you initially set up your line. If this is the case, you will need to make the necessary arrangement with your chosen phone company.
When you participate in the program, you may also be able to claim free cell phone service which may include free minutes, texts, and internet data. There are several phone providers that take part in the Lifeline program so you will need to take the time to research these in order to choose which one may best suit you.
How to Claim a Phone Discounts Using the Lifeline Assistance Program?
There are several ways that you can apply to take advantage of the Lifeline Phone Assistance Program. These include:
The easiest and most convenient way is to apply online using the official website where you will fill in a detailed form.
Apply By Mail
Alternatively, you may apply via post but regardless, if you are making your own application, you will first need to complete the National Verifier to determine your eligibility.
Applying Using the State Lifeline Program
Depending on your location, you may need to apply using the State Lifeline program; this applies to residents of Oregon, California, and Texas. Contacting a Lifeline company or the State Public Utilities Commission will allow you to find out more information.
Contact Your Phone or Internet Provider
Alternatively, you can use your phone company to apply. It is important to find a phone company that operates in your local area. If you are at all unsure, there is an online tool that provides details of all Lifeline companies in your area.
You may decide, down the line, that you wish to change your current provider and this is entirely possible. In order to do this, you must ensure that the new phone company does participate in the Lifeline program and you should contact them directly to make the necessary arrangements. You will need various personal information including your social security number, so be sure to have this to hand.
Important Rules about the Lifeline Program
It is important to bear in mind that there are a few rules around using the Lifeline program. Firstly, you must remember to recertify annually. When it is time to do this, you will receive a letter with details on what you need to do and applicants must respond within 60 days to avoid a disruption to their claim. You must make sure that you use your phone line, otherwise you risk your claim being cancelled.
Applicants should always provide truthful and correct information and be prepared to submit the relevant documents when asked. It is against the law to provide false information to federal agencies. Full details of the rules can be found on the Lifeline website.