California residents who receive Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, Medicaid and other public assistance or who earn less than $15,000 per year can receive free cellphones and service as of today.
A federal program designed to help homeless and other needy people connect with family and friends, housing programs and potential employers kicked off today across the state.
The phone giveaways have been approved by the state's Public Utilities Commission and are being led by Assurance Wireless.
The Lifeline Assistance program is funded through contributions by telephone companies to the Universal Service Fund. Companies can recoup part of their contributions through fees charged to paying customers.
Roughly 4.6 million California households, including 200,000 from Sacramento, could be eligible for the Lifeline program, based on estimates by Assurance.
Those who qualify will get basic cellphones, plus 250 text messages per month, said spokeswoman Jayne Wallace.
To apply for the program, Californians must first request a phone from Assurance Wireless by calling 800-395-2171 or visiting assurancewireless.com.
Once the necessary paperwork has been submitted, customers will receive a free phone within 10 days.
After receiving their phones, they will get an application from the state of California. They must return that form within 45 days along with proof of eligibility.
If eligible, they can continue receiving free service.