Sprint brand offers help for low-income families in Kansas

Low-income families in Kansas could qualify for free cellphones and a limited number of minutes every month from a Sprint Nextel brand that began service in Kansas on Monday.

Assurance Wireless offers free phones and 250 free minutes to qualifying households. The program is not yet available in Missouri.

The free phones are subsidized by paying customers, whose monthly bills include charges for the Universal Service Fund that supports the federal Lifeline Assistance program. Those taxes have long helped provide telephone service in rural areas and for decades have covered discounted landlines for some poor families. Families that forgo the cut-rate landlines can sometimes qualify for the free cellphones, but they are not eligible for both.

In Kansas, residents qualify for the free phones and minutes if they’re currently enrolled in the following programs: Medicaid, food stamps, general assistance, Head Start, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, United Tribes Food Distribution Program, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribally Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program.

People may also qualify based on their household income. To check for eligibility, call 800-395-2171 or go to

Prepaid wireless company TracFone offers a similar program in Missouri, but not Kansas, using AT&T and Verizon Wireless networks.

Potential customers can call 800-723-3545 or go to

Such programs are seen as boons for wireless carriers. While Sprint pays for the cost of the phone, and it gives them an opportunity to sell more minutes than are covered by the program.

Verizon doesn’t offer free phone service in Kansas, but it does offer monthly discounts on contract service of $17.77 for its Lifeline/Link Up program and waives credit checks for qualifying customers.