in 23 states, Lifeline Participation higher than Unemployment INsurance

In 2012, the FCC proposed new regulations to "eliminate waste, fraud and abuse" from the Lifeline program.  These reforms included requirements that recipients re-enroll every year, and more stringent guidelines for the kinds of documentation applicants had to provide to prove their eligibility. Since the implementation of these reforms - the program is spending less, but also serving fewer households, and decreasing the adoption rate by nearly 10% (see table below). Despite the effects of these reforms - in significantly decreasing the adoption rates nationwide - Lifeline is still a popular federal program. 

Table from National Lifeline Association Presentation, accessed:

Table from National Lifeline Association Presentation, accessed:

I compared the most recent available state-level data on the rates of participation in Lifeline* and in Unemployment Insurance**.  I found that in 23 states, a higher percentage of the eligible populations participated in the Lifeline program than in Unemployment Insurance programs. Among these states, the average difference in participation was 15% (more participants in Lifeline than in UI), with a high of 31% (Florida) and a low of 2% (California) - full spreadsheet available here. Both Lifeline and Unemployment Insurance have faced cuts on the federal and state levels in the past five years, and while both programs struggle to reach eligible populations, the high rates of participation in the Lifeline program suggest the important role of basic cell phone access to low-income American households. 


* Lifeline participation rates were calculated from publicly available data from the Universal Service Administration Co. (designated by FCC as administrators of the Universal Service Fund). Many thanks to Amy Gonzales & Ilana Gershon for bringing this data to my attention. For even more detailed information on state-level implementation of Lifeline see:

** Unemployment Insurance participation rates calculated in: McKenna, Claire and Rick McHugh. 2016. “Share of Unemployed Receiving Jobless Aid Remained at Record Low in 2015.” National Employment Law Project.