Location:
UTILITIES - TELEPHONE; WELFARE;
Scope:
Program Description;

OLR Research Report


December 9, 2010

 

2010-R-0514

CELL PHONE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS FOR LOW-INCOME INDIVIDUALS

By: Nicole Dube, Associate Analyst

You asked for information about Virgin Mobile USA's Assurance Wireless program which provides free cell phone service to qualifying low-income individuals.

SUMMARY

Assurance Wireless provides eligible low-income individuals with a free wireless phone and 250 free minutes of nationwide cell phone service each month. There are no long-term contracts, activation and recurring fees, or surcharges for program participants.

Assurance Wireless is provided by Virgin Mobile USA and is a Lifeline Assistance program supported by the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Universal Service Fund. It is currently available in 13 states: Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Eligibility varies by state, although generally an individual qualifies for the program if he or she participates in certain government assistance programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps). Each state, except Maryland and West Virginia, also allows an individual to qualify for the program based on his or her household income. Service is terminated once an individual no longer meets these eligibility requirements.

ASSURANCE WIRELESS PROGRAM

Assurance Wireless is provided by Virgin Mobile USA and is a Lifeline Assistance program supported by the FCC's Universal Service Fund. The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires this fund to be used in part to help low-income customers pay for monthly telephone charges and initial connection charges. Lifeline Assistance Programs provide eligible low-income individuals with a discount on monthly charges for their primary home telephone line. Some wireless companies offer Lifeline telephone programs throughout the country; Assurance Wireless is one such program. (Only one wireless or landline Lifeline account is allowed per household.)

Assurance Wireless is currently available in 13 states: Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The program provides eligible individuals a free wireless phone and 250 free minutes of wireless phone service each month. A participant may purchase additional minutes if needed ($5 for 250 minutes or $20 for 1000 minutes and 1000 text messages per month).

Eligibility requirements vary by state, but generally an individual qualifies for the program if he or she participates in certain government assistance programs such as Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, and SSI. Each state except, Maryland and West Virginia, also accepts applicants whose household income falls at or below a certain threshold (135% or 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL)). Table 1 provides a summary of eligibility requirements in each state.

Table 1: Assurance Wireless Program Eligibility Requirements by State

State

Eligible Household Income

Eligible Government Program Participation

Florida

At or below 150% FPL; $16,245 for one person and $33,075 for a family of four in 2010

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Temporary Cash Assistance, Bureau of Indian Affairs Programs, Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), National School Lunch Program's Free Lunch Program (NSL)

Indiana

At or below 135% FPL; $14,621 for one person and $29,768 for a family of four in 2010

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

Louisiana

At or below 135% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

Maryland

N/A

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, Temporary Disability Assistance Program, Public Assistance for Adults, Electric Universal Service Program, Maryland Energy Assistance Program

Michigan

At or below 150% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

Mississippi

At or below 135% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

New Jersey

Age 65 and older with income at or below 150% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, General Assistance, SSI, TANF, Lifeline Utility Credit/Tenants Lifeline Assistance, Home Energy Assistance Program, Pharmaceutical Assistance for the Aged and Disabled

New York

At or below 135% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

North Carolina

At or below 135% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

Tennessee

At or below 135% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

Texas

At or below 150% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Child Health Plan, FPHA, LIHEAP

Virginia

At or below 135% FPL

Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, TANF, FPHA, LIHEAP, NSL

West Virginia

N/A

Medicaid, SNAP, Emergency Assistance, FPHA, SSI, TANF, NSL, LIHEAP, School Clothing Allowance, West Virginia Children's Health Insurance Program

Additional program information is available by calling 1-888-898-4888 or visiting the Assurance Wireless website at www.assurancewireless.com.

ND:ts