If you’ve ever scanned your phone bill, you’ve probably seen a charge labeled “USF.” It stands for Universal Service Fee. Many phone companies pass this charge on to the consumer. It pays for phone service for low-income households. Click here to see a breakout of other charges on your phone bill.

There are government programs to make sure everyone has a lifeline when they need it. 240,000 people in Ohio have <a href="Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Explains Lifeline, Link-Up, and SafeLink“>Lifeline.

Lifeline and Link-Up are two programs that give low-income households a discount toward set-up and monthly phone bills.

Link-Up gives consumers in Ohio $30 or a 50% discount off basic charges. You qualify if your income is at or below 135% of the poverty level.

You qualify for Lifeline if your household income is at or below 130% or 150% of the federal poverty level, depending on the phone provider. It may also be available if you qualify for other state and federal social service programs.

Lifeline is expanding. It’s no longer just for landline service. There is a cell phone option. However, you can’t double dip. You can have either landline or cell phone service through Lifeline.

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In Ohio, Tracfone is approved to offer the wireless Lifeline service and they call it SafeLink Wireless. You get a free cell phone if your income is at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. You get three options for service: 68 minutes a month, 125 minutes a month, or 250 minutes a month.

The wireless program and providers vary by state.

Click here for a list of programs in your state by phone carrier
Missouri Lifeline – discount $3.50 – $13.50 depending on phone carrier
Kansas Lifeline – discount up to $17.50
Ohio Lifeline – discount $7 – $17 depending on phone carrier