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Can You Qualify for Social Security Benefits While Incarcerated?

Making the wrong choices in life can easily result in a lengthy prison sentence. A jail or prison sentence entails more than just a loss of financial and personal freedom. Being incarcerated can also place your eligibility for certain benefits in jeopardy.

Despite qualifying for your Social Security disability and SSI benefits prior to your incarceration, being in prison can have wide-ranging effects on receiving benefits. The following offers a detailed explanation of how your time incarcerated can affect your benefits.

Incarceration Can Limit Benefits

The Social Security Administration will suspend your Social Security disability benefits if you are incarcerated for more than 30 continuous days.  

The good news is that you can apply to have your Social Security disability benefits reinstated as soon as you’re released from prison. However, you won’t be paid for any benefits until 30 days after the date of your release. Once your benefits are reinstated, you will receive payment the following month after the reinstatement date.

Being incarcerated brings more dire consequences for your SSI benefits. If you’re incarcerated for more than 12 consecutive months, the SSA will completely terminate your SSI benefits. As a result, you’ll need to go through the entire application process upon your release. As with your Social Security disability, your SSI benefits will be reinstated 30 days after your release.

Spouses Can Still Receive Benefits

Although your Social Security disability and SSI benefits temporarily end with incarceration, your family will remain eligible to receive benefits throughout your incarceration. Your dependent spouse and children will still receive benefits as long as they remain eligible.

However, this eligibility depends on your receipt of Social Security disability benefits prior to your incarceration. If you weren’t receiving Social Security disability or SSI benefits before that time, your family won’t be able to benefit during your prison time if they don’t otherwise qualify.

Eligibility Resumes After Prison

While having a felony conviction on record can affect housing and employment opportunities, it won’t have any impact on your Social Security disability and SSI eligibility. If you were incarcerated for less than a year, your benefits will automatically resume as soon as your status is updated. If your benefits were suspended for more than a year while you were in prison, you may need to reapply with the SSA to resume your benefits.

Your eligibility status hinges on your official release from custody. Transitioning into a halfway house program or being transferred into a mental health care facility still counts as being officially incarcerated. Your eligibility status will be restored only when you’re officially released from those facilities.

Being released on parole or home monitoring won’t negatively impact your eligibility status. As long as you abide by the terms of your release, you’ll be able to resume or reapply for Social Security disability and SSI benefits.

Active Warrants Can Limit Benefits

Unresolved court problems such as an outstanding warrant can negatively impact your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. If you have an active warrant for a felony offense or a federal or state probation or parole violation for more than 30 days, the SSA may decide to suspend your benefits until the warrant is satisfied with your surrender, your arrest, or a judge’s dismissal.

If your Social Security benefits are cut off due to an active warrant, you may be able to have your benefits restored by establishing good cause. For instance, you may have been unaware of an active warrant until you were pulled over or otherwise interacted with law enforcement. As long as you make no deliberate effort to evade arrest, you may be able to use your lack of awareness to show good cause.

Other ways you can show good cause for restoring your Social Security disability benefits include dismissal of the charges that the warrant is based on or vacating the warrant itself. If you had your identity stolen and a warrant issued based on that stolen information, you can show good cause by providing proof of the identity theft in question.

An experienced attorney can help you regain your lost benefits after you’ve been incarcerated. Contact our legal team at Glen Cook, Social Security Attorney, to learn more or schedule a consultation.