Why Apply If the Coupons Are Gone?
It's true that all available funding is tied up in active coupons. But, that doesn't mean the National Telecommunications and that Information Administration is done distributing new coupons to new households.
However, there is a chance that several million active coupons will expire. For each coupon that expires, $40 is returned to the program's account, which is why the NTIA has created a waiting list. (How long is the DTV converter box coupon wait list?)
The NTIA only had funds to pay for 33.5 million $40 coupons, which means at any given time they can only have a total of 33.5 million distributed between redeemed coupons and those that haven't been redeemed. New funds are made available as a coupon expires. A coupon expires when it isn't redeemed after 90 days of being mailed to the consumer.
There are approximately 14 million active coupons right now. Historically, about half of the distributed coupons have expired, but that is changing as the digital transition gets closer. Recent weeks show the redemption rate rising to 60%.
There is also a chance that the NTIA will get more funding. The NTIA already asked Congress for another $250 million, which would fund another 6.25 million coupons.
This is why applying today could get you a $40 coupon in the weeks ahead. While applying isn't a guarantee of a coupon, it is guaranteeing you a chance to get one.
According to the NTIA, new coupons will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis as active coupons expire due to reaching their 90 day limit without being redeemed. Currently, there is a waiting list of approximately one million people, and it grows every day.
Factors Working Against People That Don't Have a Coupon Yet
The 33.5 million coupons are actually split between two program phases. The initial phase can distribute about 22.25 million coupons. All households are eligible for the $40 coupon in the initial phase. The other 11.25 million coupons are restricted to the contingency phase, which is only available to homes that rely exclusively on over-the-air reception.
The restriction of the contingency phase works in favor of the antenna-only user, because the antenna-only user makes up less than 10% of the TV homes in the United States, according to The Nielsen Group. About half of the remaining 14.6 million coupons are restricted to the contingency phase.