Need a cell phone for occasional important calls, but can’t afford the cost? You may qualify for a program that provides free cell phones and limited monthly minutes to people under a certain income level.
SafeLink Wireless is a government-supported program provided by TracFone, a prepaid cell phone company. To be eligible, an individual must participate in certain state or federal programs, such as Medicaid or food stamps, or meet federal poverty guidelines. Only one person per household can participate in SafeLink. The service is currently available in about 20 states, with several more to be added soon.
José A. Fuentes, director of government relations for TracFone, said confidentiality policies prevent him from providing specific numbers as to how many people participate in SafeLink. “However, what I can say is since we launched in August 2008, the response has been overwhelming.”
In addition to getting a free phone, participants also get a certain number of free minutes per month. The exact number varies from state to state, with the average being around 68 minutes per month. Since TracFone is a prepaid service, there’s no risk of incurring additional charges once you use your allotted minutes.“Once the minutes are up they would need to purchase additional minutes,” Fuentes said. “However, many of our customers are very savvy when it comes to using their monthly minutes and stay within the range. Any unused minutes rollover... The great thing about our service is that there is no contract and no bill. As long as you qualify for the service, it is 100% free.”
An important thing to remember: These phones - like any cell phone - can still be used to call 911 even if they are out of minutes.
The SafeLink phone isn’t designed to take the place of a landline house phone. “This phone is not intended for heavy usage,” said Fuentes. “This phone is for quick phone calls, as well as a way for people to reach you in case of a emergency or for calls from a potential employer.”