Lifeline is a government subsidy program that offers discount talk, text, and data plans for low-income households. To keep their service, subscribers must recertify annually.
This is done by submitting income documentation to USAC. Some subscribers can complete this online or via an automated system; others must submit paperwork to their provider.
Key Changes and Updates You Should Know
The Commission has taken many steps to reform the Lifeline program and ensure it serves its statutory mandate by providing low-income consumers access to vital telecommunications services. In particular, in the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order, we added broadband as a supported service, established minimum performance standards, and created a National Eligibility Verifier to make independent eligibility determinations. These changes are designed to improve the program’s efficiency, reduce compliance burdens on service providers, and safeguard the integrity of the Lifeline Program.
In addition, the new system will reduce waste, fraud, and abuse by leveraging efficiencies from existing federal programs that demonstrate limited eligibility error rates. This will help the Nation achieve its goal of putting the Internet within reach for low-income Americans.
To accomplish this goal, the National Verifier will leverage existing data sharing and database access agreements to establish a long-term technological solution allowing subscribers to self-certify their eligibility without relying on documentation. This approach will also make it easier for service providers to manage the verification process by eliminating the need to recertify their subscribers’ eligibility.
The National Verifier will also allow providers to collect additional revenue from their Lifeline subscribers through various mechanisms, including one-time payments upon enrollment, monthly payments, or a flexible payment schedule. This flexibility is designed to provide Lifeline subscribers with the options they need and want for their communications services.
Every year, eligible low-income households must recertify their eligibility for Lifeline service. This helps to ensure that the program administrators can verify that each household continues to meet all of the program’s requirements, including having a qualifying household size and income level. If the administration finds that a household no longer meets these requirements, they will be automatically de-enrolled from program-supported services.
Subscribers who fail to recertify will be contacted by their service provider and given a specific period to complete the Lifeline recertification process. Depending on the state, this may be as few as 60 days or as long as 180.
To recertify, subscribers will be asked to prove they are still eligible for the program by using an online or automated system. They will also be asked to provide new documentation if necessary. The process is easy enough for most consumers and should be able to handle all of them.
Eligible telecommunications carriers must also help their subscribers with the verification process by conducting outreach and assisting in collecting documentation supporting their eligibility. This includes state and national income database queries and a verification process consistent with commission rules.
Each year, Lifeline subscribers must recertify their eligibility by providing documentation to USAC. The verification process is designed to ensure that the program is only serving eligible households. Currently, USAC verifies subscribers’ eligibility through automated queries of state income databases and the national verifier. If subscribers fail the automated database checks, they are notified and given an approximate 60-day window to recertify their eligibility.
However, some consumers must submit the required documentation promptly, leading to large billing regrades and potential de-enrollment from the program. This problem affects both good and bad actors in the program. Good actors, like cable providers who provide discounts to their Lifeline customers, must spend valuable time and resources verifying the eligibility of those customers – while bad actors take advantage of the system to defraud the program by gaming the verification system and falsely signing up for Lifeline service.
To reduce the number of non-responses, the CPUC has directed Solix to review the reasons behind low response rates and implement changes to improve the verification process. For example, staff has directed Solix to reduce the days before an anniversary date when the program sends out the verification forms and to work with carriers to minimize the impact on good actors from billing regrades caused by non-responses to verification requests. Additionally, the agency has adjusted the guidelines for acceptable documentation, which will help some households.
Staying on Top of Notifications
Whenever you submit documentation supporting your Lifeline eligibility, ensure the information is accurate. If you are asked to complete questionnaires about your income, your physical address, or the number of household members, do so honestly and completely. Providing false or misleading information can lead to your Lifeline service being canceled. It can also be punishable under federal law.
Each year, USAC or your state (if you live in a non-NLAD opt-out state) will check to see if low-income households still meet Lifeline’s program requirements. If they can confirm eligibility through the information they have in their database, you won’t need to recertify. However, if they can’t, you will receive a letter or pre-recorded message on your phone asking that you recertify.
If you fail to recertify by your deadline, your Lifeline talk, text, and data plan will be canceled. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, suppose you live in a state affected by natural disasters, like the recent wildfires that devastated Maui. In that case, you can present a letter or other documentation to prove your eligibility. If you need help responding, contact your provider for more information.