As word spreads that Verizon’s HopeLine program, which provided free cell phones to survivors, is ending, many local programs are wondering what options are available.
Probably the best option right now, at least for survivors who are low-income, will be the Lifeline program. Lifeline is managed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and run by individual phone providers. The program offers reduced fee or free phones with data and minutes for eligible low-income individuals. Program materials state that, “To participate in the program, subscribers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in certain assistance programs.”
As for other programs that collect, refurbish and give out free phones to survivors, be cautious when considering partnering with them. Older phones, often donated directly to shelters or through donation drives, often have old batteries. This means that a phone kept hidden in case a survivor needs to call 911 might not work when it’s needed. Ask how they wipe previous owner’s data from the devices, if they install a new battery, and whether the phone can only be used for 911 calls.
In addition, we know that access to a phone can make a difference for survivor beyond the ability to contact emergency services. A smartphone with data, minutes and messaging, can help survivors to locate housing, services, employment, medical appointments, court dates, and can reduce isolation.
The HopeLine program differed from other programs by giving survivors a new phone. The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence summarized the success of the program in announcing it was discontinued, “Over the course of HopeLine’s phone donation program, millions of phones were provided to survivors of domestic violence and tens of millions of dollars were committed to support the important work of domestic violence prevention and awareness.” Survivors currently using HopeLine phones will be able to continue using them through December 31, 2018.