Thursday, March 14, 2024

How to Qualify for Free Cell Phone Service in New York Using the ACP and Lifeline Program

It’s no secret that many low-income Americans struggle to access essential needs like food, healthcare, education, and housing. But with the Affordable Connectivity Program and Lifeline government benefit programs, you can get FREE Cell Phone Service without having to worry about a monthly bill.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2021 nearly 2.7 million New Yorkers were living below the federal poverty threshold, and nearly 41.4 million people were below the threshold nationally1. Poverty rates in New York have been consistently higher than the national average since 2014, with the rate growing steadily year over year.

Luckily, there are more than 1,000 state and federal assistance programs in the U.S. that serve as vital financial resources to help low-income households afford basic necessities. These include some familiar government benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Pension, and many others.

Two initiatives that often go unmentioned are the Lifeline Program and the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). These federal benefits enable low-income families to stay connected to the world around them by providing discounts on monthly phone and internet services.

Familiarizing yourself with the eligibility criteria and utilization of these programs can significantly aid in managing your finances while ensuring a dependable wireless phone and Internet connection for you and your family.

Let’s Start with the Basics: What is the Lifeline Program?

Two small American flags held up to the sky by a woman's hand outdoors during the day.
Lifeline is a federal government program that provides monthly discounts on essential phone services, allowing low-income individuals to stay connected.

In 1984, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Lifeline Program with the aim of providing low-income individuals with access to vital communication services, such as phones, at an affordable cost.

Qualified consumers are eligible for a monthly service bill discount of either $9.25 or $34.25 (for those residing on Tribal lands) through the program.

Low-income Americans all over the country can benefit from Lifeline discounts that help make phone, internet, and bundled wireless broadband service packages more affordable.

The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) administers the Lifeline program and is responsible for determining consumer eligibility, managing the Lifeline Support Center, as well as annually recertifying beneficiaries in accordance with the regulations set forth by the FCC.

How to Qualify for Lifeline in New York

There are two ways to qualify for the Lifeline Program: (1) based on your income and (2) based on your participation in other government programs.

Determining Lifeline Eligibility Based on Income

If your income falls at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or if you are currently enrolled in other federal assistance programs, you may already be eligible for Lifeline. The table below reflects 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for 2023.

2023 Federal Poverty Guidelines

Household Size48 Contiguous States, D.C., and Territories
For each additional person, add:$6,939

*The Federal Poverty Guidelines are updated at the end of every January.

What is a Household?

Mult-generation family living in the same household gathered around a laptop on a table laughing and smiling.
Households can have up to one Lifeline discount, and benefits cannot be transferred between different people.

The USAC defines a “household” as a group of people who live together and share income and expenses regardless of their relation to each other. Household expenses include food, healthcare, and rent/mortgage expenses that go toward your residence and utilities.

If your household shares salary, public assistance benefits, social security payments, pensions, unemployment compensation, veteran’s benefits, inheritances, alimony, child support payments, worker’s compensation benefits, gifts, and/or lottery winnings, then you have shared income.

This is important to keep in mind because you are allowed only one Lifeline benefit per household, not per person. If multiple people in your household receive Lifeline benefits, you will lose your benefit for violating FCC rules.

Additionally, Lifeline benefits are non-transferable. So, even if the person you want to give it to qualifies for Lifeline, you cannot give your benefit to another person.

Determining Lifeline Eligibility Based on Gov. Program Participation

If you or someone in your household already receive government assistance, your household may qualify for Lifeline. 

Qualifying Government Programs

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (Food Stamps)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Veterans Pension or Survivors Benefit Programs
  • Tribal Specific Programs
    • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) General Assistance
    • Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
    • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
    • Tribal Head Start (only households that meet the income qualifying standard)

Beneficiaries of Lifeline Tribal Benefits may receive further assistance through the Enhanced Tribal Benefit and Link-Up programs.

How to Apply for Lifeline in New York

White senior  man sitting at a table using his smartphone and laptop to apply for Lifeline government benefit program and/or the ACP.
Low-income individuals can apply for Lifeline benefits over the phone, online, or by mailing in their application.

New Yorkers can apply for Lifeline benefits using a variety of methods: using an online form, applying over the phone, or contacting a participating phone service provider.

Low-income New Yorkers Have a Second Option: the ACP

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is another government assistance program that is administered by the USAC under the direction of the FCC. This program provides several benefits, including:

  • A discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service
  • A discount of up to $75 per month toward internet service for qualifying households on Tribal lands
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 on a qualifying internet device such as a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from a participating provider (requires a minimum $10.01 customer copayment)

The ACP is the new and improved version of the previously known Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program, which came into effect during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help low-income American households afford essential internet services.

Currently, there are approximately over 3.3 million ACP-eligible households in the state of New York. Out of these 3.3 million, only 39% (~1.3 million) are enrolled in the program. This means that roughly 61% (~2 million) of eligible households are NOT benefitting from ACP-provided monthly discounts on their internet services2.

Today, about 18.2 million out of 51.6 million ACP-eligible households in the U.S. are enrolled in ACP2.

As you can see, there’s still a long way to go in terms of nationwide ACP adoption. Already, governors across 28 states have pledged to make ACP adoption a priority by promoting awareness and breaking down enrollment barriers.

How to Qualify for ACP Benefits in New York

A mature white woman smiling and using her smartphone on the sidewalk of a busy street in New York City.
New York residents from low-income households have several ways they can qualify for the ACP.

The ACP has similar requirements to that of the Lifeline Program, with some small variations. In short, New Yorkers have two ways they can qualify for ACP: (a) based on income and (b) based on government program participation.

Determining ACP Eligibility Based on Household Income

If your household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, you may qualify to receive discounts on your monthly internet service. However, it is important to note that these income thresholds are subject to annual changes and are typically revised at the end of January each year.

2023 Federal Poverty Guidelines

Household Size48 Connecting States, D.C., and Territories
If more than 8, add this amount for each extra person:$10,280

Determining ACP Eligibility Based on Gov. Program Participation

Another way you can qualify for the ACP in New York is if you or someone in your household already participates in any of the following federal assistance programs:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also called Food Stamps)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicaid
  • Lifeline Program
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
    • Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program (Section 8 Vouchers)
    • Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA)/202/811
    • Public Housing
    • Affordable Housing Programs for American Indians, Alaska Natives, or Native Hawaiians
  • Veterans Pension or Survivors Benefit Programs
  • Federal Pell Grant for the current award year
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch or Breakfast Program, or enrollment in a Community Eligibility Provision School
  • Tribal Specific Programs
    •  Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) General Assistance
    • Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
    • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
    • Tribal Head Start (only households that meet the income qualifying standard)

New York Lifeline Subscribers Automatically Qualify for ACP

As you probably noticed, consumers who are currently enrolled in the Lifeline Program can automatically qualify for the ACP and can use both discounts at the same time by applying them to the same or separate services.

How to Apply for ACP Benefits in New York

Mature black man smiling while using smartphone and laptop to
Applying for the ACP in New York can be done online, via mail-in application, or by contacting your internet service provider.

Low-income New York residents can apply for the ACP by submitting an online or mail-in application. You may also contact your internet service provider and see if they participate in the ACP or find a participating company in your area.

Get FREE Cell Phone Service in New York

To make the most of your Lifeline and ACP benefits, we recommend signing up with
Q Link Wireless, one of America’s leading ACP and Lifeline providers.

Customers who apply and enroll with Q Link receive FREE UNLIMITED cell phone service that includes Data, Talk, & Text every month, with the added benefit of being able to keep your favorite phone and your number. Plus, you can get 2 months of Amazon Prime for no cost just for signing up as an extra bonus.

If you’re looking to upgrade your device, Q Link Wireless also offers a wide selection of affordable smartphones that includes brands like Apple, Google, Samsung, Motorola, and more, all at affordable prices.

Check out Q Link Wireless’ phones and deals!

With Q Link Wireless, you’ll have nationwide coverage on one of America’s largest 4G LTE/5G networks. Enjoy faster speeds and access to over 10 million FREE Wi-Fi locations.

Don’t pay for activation, monthly bills, hidden fees, or contracts!

Get your FREE UNLIMITED cell phone service today and tell your friends and family so that they can start saving too!



Melissa Halle
Melissa Halle
Melissa Halle is a passionate writer and dedicated advocate for accessible communication and financial empowerment. With a decade of experience, her mission is to help individuals and families get FREE cell phone service while providing information on additional government benefits.

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  1. Long time ago I used to have the q Link that I really liked it I also want to get the tablet and the free phone with the copay I’m kind of really excited for this to get started once I get my package with my new phone and tablet


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