EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 6, 2013

Lifeline Program provides phone service for eligible senior citizens

Rosanne DiStefano
Elder Q&A

---- — Q: My elderly mother lives on a very tight budget. I am helping her to find ways to reduce monthly costs. Her phone bill seems high but she has to have a way to communicate with us and for emergencies if she needs immediate medical attention. Is there any assistance for this?

A: Your question relates to an important benefit far too many people are unaware of, 50 percent of consumers in Massachusetts who could be receiving assistance are not enrolled. The “Lifeline” service (not to be confused with the personal emergency response systems) is a federal government benefit program providing monthly discounts on landline or wireless telephone service for eligible low-income consumers. Select wireless companies offer free cell phone and up to 250 free minutes per month. Participation in the program could amount to considerable yearly savings on either a landline or cell phone.

Financial criteria requires the applicant must be at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guideline (around $15,080 for one person) and eligibility needs to be reconfirmed every year. Eligibility may also be met by enrollment in MassHealth, SSI, food stamps, Section 8 housing, Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program, Head Start, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or the National Free Lunch School Program.

The Lifeline Program started in 1985, in 2005 pre-paid wireless service plans were included. Eligible households must choose one option, landline or cell phone. interested individuals should apply for the discount through their local phone provider. The phone companies are then reimbursed by the government for services. In Massachusetts the companies participating include Verizon, T-Mobile, Safelink Wireless, Granby Telephone, Assurance Wireless and Taconic Telephone/Fairpoint Communications.

Free senior friendly cell phones which are larger in size, with bigger buttons and pre-set emergency numbers for easier use are available. No-cost cell phones and basic service for senior citizens are provided in Massachusetts by Safelink and Assurance Wireless. For additional information call the Federal Communications Commission 1-888-225-5322.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.