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Anyone on Oregon Health Plan or SNAP benefits qualifies for a federal program that gives away free phones on Thursday, Dec. 23.

COURTESY IMAGE - A free phone fair on Dec. 23 will offer free cell phones with unlimited plans for anyone who qualifies for the Oregon Health Plan or Medicaid (not Medicare), or receives SNAP benefits.Low income residents can receive a free cell phone during a phone giveaway event from 3:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 23, at the Wayfinding Academy, 8010, N. Charleston Ave. in North Portland's St. Johns neighborhood.

A group of Portland-area residents have planned a free phone fair with the intent to get as many Portlanders connected before the Christmas holiday. Anyone who qualifies can come sign up for a free smartphone with unlimited data. The first 200 people to arrive will walk away with phones. If there are additional requests, the phones will be shipped directly to the recipient. Recipients need not be a Portland or Oregon resident to attend.

The fair is possible thanks to a federal Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

"In 2021, having a smartphone is critical for access to transportation, community and even health care. But the cost of adequate plans and phones are burdensome for so many in our community," said Gregory McKelvey, one of the event's organizers. "That's why we're collaborating with community organizations across the Portland metro area for a Free Phones for Christmas phone fair. This is an amazing opportunity for those who can not afford a phone, the houseless population, and many more."

COURTESY PHOTO: MIKE BAUMEISTER - Free phones will be offered to the first 200 people during a free phone fair Dec. 23 in St. Johns. Under the federal government's Emergency Broadband Benefit, those who qualify will receive a free smartphone, along with a free phone plan, including unlimited data, voice and text. It is easy to qualify: anyone who receives SNAP benefits or is covered by the Oregon Health Plan/Medicaid (not Medicare) is eligible. The group expects that the free monthly service will continue to be a long-term federal benefit, but the Emergency Broadband Benefit partner's offer is only available now.

"Due to changes to the federal funding of this benefit as of Jan. 1, 2022, this free phone program will not be open for new enrollment in the new year," organizers noted.

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