Federal Assistance Programs: Lifeline & Emergency Broadband Benefit
Program updates as of November 5, 2021
TEMPORARY LIFELINE PROGRAM CHANGES IN RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC ARE EXTENDED AGAIN BY THE FCC: On September 22, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a waiver to ensure low-income consumers continue to have access to affordable communications services needed for telemedicine, telework, and online learning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This waiver extends the previous Lifeline waivers set to expire September 30, 2021, through December 31, 2021.
This means that the waivers governing recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, and income documentation are extended through December 31, 2021, for all applicable Lifeline participants. Additionally, the waiver regarding documentation requirements for subscribers residing in rural areas on Tribal lands is extended through December 31, 2021.
From now through December 31, 2021:
- Recertification requirements are on hold. Recertification is now on hold for all subscribers with anniversary dates that fall on or between April 14, 2020, and March 31, 2022. Affected subscribers will only need to recertify once in calendar year 2022
- Reverification requirements are on hold.
- Consumers will continue to have flexibility related to the documentation they can use to demonstrate income eligibility.
- Service providers can continue to begin providing Lifeline service to eligible Lifeline consumers living in rural areas on Tribal lands even before those consumers have submitted certain supporting documentation to complete their Lifeline application; however, those subscribers cannot be claimed until they have an approved National Verifier application.
In addition, the Lifeline voice-only benefit option, scheduled to be phased out as of December 1, 2021, has been extended by FCC order for one year for customers residing in census blocks that have only one voice-only provider. The voice-only benefit option now will be phased out as of December 1, 2022.
Lastly, USAC will continue to temporarily accept driver’s licenses or state identification cards that have expired on or after March 1, 2020, when needed to complete any Lifeline applications.
Reminder: The FCC’s waiver governing the Lifeline non-usage rule ended May 1, 2021.
CENSUS BLOCKS ELIGIBLE FOR CONTINUED VOICE-ONLY SUPPORT: On June 1, 2021, the FCC and USAC released a list of Census blocks where Lifeline support for qualifying voice-only services will continue after December 1, 2021. Service providers operating in these Census blocks will continue to be able to receive $5.25 in Lifeline reimbursement per subscriber per month, even after the voice phase-down is complete on December 1, for qualifying voice-only services provided to Lifeline subscribers in these Census blocks.
In addition to residing in the identified Census Block, a subscriber enrolled by a service provider for voice-only services will need to have a primary residential ZIP code that is included with the published list of Census blocks.
Lifeline: Assistance Program for Phone and Internet Service
Financial assistance through the Lifeline program is available to help those who qualify, to afford and maintain either telephone service or broadband internet access service, or bundled services. Lifeline participation enables Iowans to stay connected to jobs, family, community resources, and government and emergency services. Click here to search the USAC list of Iowa companies providing Lifeline services.
For more information or questions about the Lifeline program, visit USAC's dedicated website LifelineSupport.org for Lifeline-eligible consumers and current subscribers. The website is for consumers and includes information on eligibility criteria, the different options consumers have when applying, details on any actions subscribers may need to take to manage their benefit, educational material, and where consumers can go to receive help.
Note: As of December 1, 2020, the Lifeline federal government monthly bill credit (benefit) for phone service will be reduced to $5.25 per qualified household. If you subscribe to the Lifeline internet service, the monthly credit is $9.25 per qualified household. If you qualify, Lifeline subscriptions are limited to one per household.
Consumers in Iowa can check their eligibility for Lifeline service directly by using the National Verifier consumer portal. The consumer portal is available in both English and Spanish language versions. Consumers, as well as service providers, will also be able to mail Lifeline program forms and documentation to USAC for manual review.
Consumers can review or apply for Lifeline using the Lifeline program application form. Paper forms can also be sent by mail to:
USAC Lifeline Support Center
P.O. Box 7081
London, KY 40742
Various Lifeline Services Offered and Minimum Service Standards as of December 1, 2020:
- Voice - Subscriber is provided a voice-only service that meets the minimum service standards.
- Broadband - Subscriber is provided a broadband-only service that meets the minimum service standards.
- Bundled Voice - Subscriber is provided a voice and broadband service that meets the voice minimum service standards only.
- Bundled Broadband - Subscriber is provided a voice and broadband service that meets the broadband minimum service standards only.
- Bundled Voice and Broadband - Subscriber is provided a voice and broadband service that meets both the minimum service standards for voice and broadband.
Detailed information about the minimum service standards established for voice and broadband service can be found on the Universal Service Administrative Company Lifeline Minimum Standards webpage.
Customers will have to choose whether to obtain federally subsidized service from a telephone or broadband provider. Households currently receiving more than one Lifeline service must select a single Lifeline service provider and de-enroll from the program with any other provider(s).
If more than one person in your household receives Lifeline, you are in violation of the FCC's rules and your benefit will be terminated.
The rules for demonstrating eligibility for Lifeline also have changed. Households may continue to verify eligibility through proof of participation in Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance Program, or Veteran’s Pension or Survivors Benefits. Tribal specific programs include Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and Tribal Head Start (only households that meet the income qualifying standard).
Consumers may qualify if they can provide proof of household income below 135 percent of the 2021 federal poverty guidelines. Participation in a qualifying program, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, or various Tribal-specific federal assistance programs.
Note: As of October 23, 2019, eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) in Iowa will be required to use the National Lifeline Verifier's eligibility determination process for all consumers applying for Lifeline service and must cease using legacy eligibility processes for prospective Lifeline subscribers. On September 23, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the launch of the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier (National Verifier) for Iowa.
For more information on the Lifeline program, visit the FCC's Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications webpage or the federal Lifeline Program website. For questions about the Lifeline Program, call (800) 234-9473 or email LifelineProgram@usac.org, or visit the Universal Service Administrative Company's Lifeline webpage. For questions to the Iowa Utilities Board, contact Don Tormey at 515.725.7347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emergency Broadband Benefit: Assistance Program for Internet Service
In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, Congress appropriated $3.2 billion to the FCC to help low-income households pay for broadband service and connected internet devices.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program will provide a discount of up to $50 per month for broadband services for eligible consumers. Consumers who live on qualifying Tribal lands can receive enhanced support of up to $75 per month toward broadband services.
Additionally, the program provides a one-time device discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider. The one-time discount requires a consumer co-payment of more than $10 and less than $50.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is temporary. It will expire when funds are exhausted or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declares the end of the COVID-19 health emergency.
Households can qualify for the Emergency Broadband Benefit by showing that at least one member of their household meets one of the following criteria:
- Qualifies for the FCC’s Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits,
- Was approved for the free or reduced price school breakfast/lunch program in the 2019-20, 2020-21, or 2021-22 school year, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision,
- Experienced substantial documented loss of income since February 29, 2020 with a total household income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers,
- Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year, or
- Qualifies for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 relief program, subject to FCC approval of that provider’s eligibility process.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per eligible household.
For more information and application instructions, visit the EBB program pages on the USAC website.