Edmonds’ Neighborhood City Hall distributes free or reduced cost smartphones and tablets – via Lifeline phone services – to those who are eligible every first and third Tuesdays of each month. Lifeline is a U.S. federal program that provides discounted or free phone services to eligible low-income individuals and households.
Lifeline services are available to residents who meet specific criteria outlined by the program. The criteria generally include those who participate in certain government assistance programs or meet income requirements, which must be at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Assistance programs include:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Veterans Pension and Survivor’s Benefit Program
- Tribal-specific programs
People who have a child or a dependent who is using any of the federal assistance programs listed may also be eligible. Lifeline aims to ensure that low-income individuals have access to essential communication services, helping them stay connected for employment, health care, education, emergencies and other critical needs.
David Bartels, the Neighborhood City Hall’s assistant administrator, said in an interview that the city distributes an estimated seven to 15 phones per event. Last Tuesday the city distributed 10 phones. The Neighborhood City Hall is located in the Highway 99 Safeway Marketplace complex off 238th Street Southwest.
“We have set all of these connections up so that is, hopefully, easier for our most vulnerable residents to hear about – and receive – all the benefits and resources that they qualify for,” Bartels said. “And that will help them in the journey of health and recovery.”
Neighborhood City Hall’s current representative is A1 Lifeline LLC, which is operated by husband and wife Mason and Amyra. Depending on a client’s eligibility, they can receive free smartphones with unlimited talk and text with 7 GB of data. Some may also qualify for affordable phones and tablets for $20 to $60, including Samsung Galaxy A03S, Moto G phones and iPhone 8. New clients must have a valid ID and a Social Security number to apply. Most government-provided phones offer 200 minutes a month, and users must be actively receiving benefits to be able to use the phone.
The State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) also offers on-site mobile health services on phone distribution days, including cash assistance, baby essentials and food. The department provides services to people who do not have easy access to a clinic and also offer other essential services to those who live near Highway 99. The office also offers application to medical assistance like Apple Health (Medicaid), but not medical care itself.
Leslie Gray, who has been interviewing clients at DSHS for more than 10 years, participated in the distribution event. She said that she knew what “coming from nothing” was like and wanted to help.
“I understand how scared people are,” she said. “When you come from nothing and you didn’t get raised to have a lot of money or food and come from a big family, and you do this and helping clients, you understand their fear and are not able to go anywhere [in life]. Even though it’s a small part of giving them money or food, it still makes me feel good inside that I was able to help them feed their kids, a place to sleep, things like that.”
Gray added that the mobile DSHS offers cash assistance for families with children, refugees and people who are aged, blind or disabled.
The assistance provides a gateway before those in need get on Social Security “if they have a mental or physical disability and they can’t work,” she said. “We also offer refugee assistance, like when we had the influx of Ukrainians coming over, we give them cash assistance as well – or any refugees.”
Bartels said that more people in Edmonds should be aware of what the Neighborhood City Hall is doing to help vulnerable people to connect with life-changing resources and connections. “The more people know about us, and the work we’re doing, the more they feel comfortable and confident that we can help, and the more they’ll tell others,” he said. “Alcoholics Anonymous has used a great metaphor: AA is one hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread.”
— Story and photos by Nick Ng