COLUMBIA— Low-income Columbia residents are now eligible to receive a free cell phone and 68 free monthly minutes to use in an emergency.
Nearly 16,420 low-income households in Boone County qualify for the federally subsidized program, according to TracFone Wireless, the supplier of the phones.
To qualify for the service, called Lifeline, a recipient must have a valid U.S. postal address, be the head of a household and already a beneficiary of a federal program. Valid federal programs include receiving food stamps, the student lunch program and state disability assistance, among others.
Those who meet these requirements must complete an application, which is available online, said Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for TracFone.
TracFone initially approached the Federal Communications Commission with a business model to provide free cell phones to low-income citizens, Fuentes said. The program stemmed from feedback about emergency phone service from people who either used few minutes, were not able to pass credit checks or disliked contracts.
“Twenty years ago, owning a cell phone was a privilege. Now it’s a right,” Fuentes said. “Access to modern communication should not only be available to people who can afford it, but for everyone.”