June 8, 2012 — Kentucky residents who receive public assistance also may qualify for subsidized telephone service under a little-known program called Lifeline Assistance.
The federally-funded program to provide telephone service to low-income persons has been around for more than a decade but some Rowan Country households recently received solicitation letters in the mail inviting eligible residents to apply for the service.
The recent mailing was from Assurance Wireless, operated by Virgin Mobile USA.
The letter states that persons who receive Medicaid, food stamps, public housing assistance, SSI or other public assistance programs, or who meet income guidelines, may qualify for a free cell phone and 250 free minutes and 250 free text messages each month.
Lifeline is a government benefit program funded through the federal Universal Service Fund, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website.
The program evolved from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and essentially offers a discount on telephone service, whether land line or cellular, to qualifying participants, typically elderly, disabled or low-income persons.
A federally-assessed fee which appears on everyone’s telephone bill funds the service.
The amount of the subsidy varies in each of the 48 states that have the program, and the subsidy in Kentucky is $12.75 a month.
That approximates to Assurance Wireless’ offering and customers who exceed that amount must pay for additional time and services.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) said that company is among several major telephone service providers and local cooperatives certified to offer the Lifeline program.
“It’s a subsidized service for people who qualify under various designations,” said public information officer Andrew Melnykovych.
“Traditionally, the service was for land lines, but in recent years it has expanded to include cell phones,” he added.
Melnykovych said each qualifying household can have landline or cellular service but not both.
According to the solicitation letter, Assurance Wireless offers free cell phones but Melnykovych said that’s an option that varies by company.
“The trend nationally for cellular providers is to give customers handsets free under the Lifeline program but not all of them do so,” he said.
Some companies offer only the monthly subsidy to customers, which has the effect of lowering the telephone bill, and some require customers to have their own telephones.
For more information on the Lifeline program, including eligibility and recertification guidelines, go to www.usac.org/li/default.aspx . The PSC also has an information brochure online at http://psc.ky.gov/agencies/psc/consumer/lifeline.pdf.
Noelle Hunter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 784-4116.