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Social Security Disability Benefits After Incarceration

By October 30, 2023October 31st, 20235 min read

Individuals who have been incarcerated may be entitled to Social Security retirement, disability, or survivor benefits, under the SSDI and SSI programs, upon their release. Social Security benefits for released prisoners include individuals seeking to restore previous benefits or those who wish to apply for the first time.

When we use the word “incarcerated,” it means that a person has been convicted of a crime and will be serving out their sentence in a state or federal prison. Being arraigned or indicted on a criminal charge is insufficient for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to pause or revoke benefits.

Incarceration for more than 30 consecutive days will result in a suspension or cessation of benefits. It is the benefit recipient’s responsibility to alert the Social Security Administration to their impending incarceration. Those who do not may be putting themselves at risk of benefits fraud and a permanent ban from receiving certain benefits.

A pause or cessation of benefits is not a hiatus from receiving benefits while confined but it is a period of all total benefit ineligibility. Incarcerated individuals whose benefits have been paused or terminated while in jail may not receive benefits retroactively.

The Status of Disability Benefits Paid to Family Members

Benefits that include spouses and children may not automatically stop after notifying the SSA of incarceration. It depends entirely on the case but they may remain eligible if the benefits had been intended to provide supplementary support to the inmate’s family. Retirement and disability benefits can be paused, whereas survivor benefits may continue if family members are still considered relatives under the Social Security Act.

This is according to Section 202(x)(2) of the Social Security Act:

Benefits paid to eligible family members, such as a spouse or dependent child, are maintained based on the incarcerated individual’s work history as if the incarcerated person were still receiving those benefits.

Rules Regarding Social Security for Released Inmates

If you were already receiving benefits before your incarceration and these benefits were put on hold while you were in jail, you have the option to request the reinstatement of your benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) following your release. To initiate this process, get in touch with your local SSA office and provide them with a copy of your release documents. Many incarceration facilities have case management services available to help you with the process of filling out benefits forms.

In case you were not previously receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits before your incarceration or your benefits were completely terminated, you will need to submit a new application and essentially start the application process from scratch if you believe you’re eligible. Along with the new application, include evidence of your release and any other pertinent documents regarding your claim.

What Release Can Mean for Your Benefits

Individuals released from a penal institution on parole or probation can restart their survivor or retirement benefits. However, those required to as a condition of their release cannot receive disability benefits because they don’t qualify.

However, while benefits cannot commence while you are still incarcerated, you can initiate the application for benefits while in prison. inform the relevant authorities at your facility that you wish to either reinstate or apply for benefits around the time of your release date, even if you’ll be on parole.

Note that individuals released to halfway houses, sometimes called Residential Reentry Centers, are still considered to be in NYS custody and therefore not eligible for benefits until they complete their full sentence.

Incarceration and Social Security Benefits Waiting Periods

Similar to individuals who were not incarcerated, there is a waiting period between the time a decision is made regarding your claim and when you can actually start receiving benefits after your release. In situations where a financial emergency arises, the SSA may issue an immediate payment after your release if: 1) you are already owed a payment; 2) you qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits; and 3) your situation meets the SSA’s criteria for a financial emergency.

You will receive credit for any benefits not received during the process of restarting monthly SSDI or SSI payments. These are usually referred to as backdated payments or just Social Security “back pay.”

Why Apply for Benefits While Still Incarcerated?

The benefits of applying for SSI/SSDI benefits in jail include:

  • Receiving help from case workers regarding the proper forms and procedures needed for benefits reinstatement.
  • Waiting periods are spent incarcerated rather than when the inmate is out and needs their benefits.
  • Preauthorization Agreements can simplify the reapplication process by waiving certain forms and requirements.
  • Peace of mind knowing that an inmate is being prepared for successful reentry into society.
  • Improved financial stability, as many bills or other financial obligations may have been put on hold while in prison.

The Social Security benefits system doesn’t discriminate against released inmates and neither do we. Claims made while incarcerated are no different from other claims.

The compassionate disability attorneys and committed legal advocates at Jeffery Freedman Attorneys PLLC are available to support successful releases by making your case for benefits. Reach out to us to help you start, reapply, or reinstate a previous Social Security claim. They can sometimes involve a lengthy process and multiple hearings in front of an NYS Administrative Law Judge.