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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009 
CONTACT: Leah Mohr, communications manager, South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, (605) 773-3201

Telephone assistance programs enable residents to connect for less

PIERRE, S.D. – Two programs are available to help make telephone service more affordable for many South Dakotans. Lifeline and Link-Up provide discounts to eligible households for local service and telephone installation.

Lifeline helps consumers who already have telephone service save a significant amount of money on their monthly phone bill. The discount applies to basic local telephone service on one line per household. Link-Up pays one-half, up to a maximum of $30, of the installation or activation fee for new telephone service at the applicant's primary residence. Customers of either program can also sign up for toll blocking or toll limitation service that either blocks or limits long-distance calls from the applicant's phone.

Applicants qualify for Lifeline and Link-Up if they participate in any of the following programs:

  • Medicaid (example, Title XIX, Medical State Supplemental Assistance)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8)
  • Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • National School Lunch Free Lunch Program

An applicant may also qualify if their household income is no more than 135 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines.

Residents of tribal lands may apply for Enhanced Lifeline and Link-Up that offer a different discount structure. The list of qualifying programs for Enhanced Lifeline and Link-Up applicants is expanded to include:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TTANF)
  • Head Start (if income eligibility criteria are met)
  • Tribal National School Lunch Program

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has complete information about the programs, including a list of participating telephone companies and applications, on their Web site at . Consumers may also call the PUC at
1-800-332-1782 for information.

"Lifeline is the perfect name for this program," said PUC Chairman Dusty Johnson. "Think about how our phones are like lifelines. A phone connects us to family, friends, our children's school, our doctor and emergency services. Participants in the program will come to truly recognize their phone as a lifeline," he continued.

Lifeline and Link-Up have been a primary promotional target of the PUC's throughout the last year with television commercials broadcast statewide. Additionally, commissioners and staff discussed the programs with consumers at home shows and fairs. A new flight of TV spots began Sept. 14.

Word of mouth is an effective tool in generating awareness about the programs as well, said PUC Vice Chairman Steve Kolbeck. "We want to make all South Dakotans aware of Lifeline and Link-Up. Even if someone doesn't personally qualify, they likely have a friend or relative who does and they can tell that person about the programs," he said.

Lifeline and Link-Up are governed by the Federal Communications Commission. The programs are designed to ensure quality telecommunications services are available to low-income customers at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. Telephone providers that serve South Dakota customers must be designated as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier by the South Dakota PUC in order to offer Lifeline and Link-Up to their customers. Once approved by the PUC the companies may apply for monies from the Universal Service Fund to provide Lifeline and Link-Up to their qualified customers.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners has designated
Sept. 14-20, 2009, as National Telephone Discount Lifeline Awareness Week. Regulatory commissions throughout the country are promoting the availability of Lifeline and Link-Up programs in their states.