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Social Security Disability Benefits After Incarceration

We’ve talked before about what happens to your Social Security benefits (retirement or disability) while you are in jail. Here, we focus specifically on what happens to these benefits after you are released from prison.

If you were receiving benefits prior to your incarceration, but your benefits were suspended while you were in jail, you can request that Social Security Administration (SSA) reinstate your benefits once you have been released. Contact your local SSA office and provide them with a copy of your release documents.

If you were not already receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits prior to serving time, or your benefits were terminated entirely, you will need to file a new application and start the process over again if you think you are still eligible. Provide proof of your release from prison along with the new application and any other documents relevant to your claim.

Although benefits cannot start while you remain in jail, you can apply for benefits while you are still incarcerated. Once you know your release date, you should notify someone at your facility that you want to reinstate or apply for benefits.

Just like if you were not in prison, there is a delay from the time a decision on your claim is made and when you can begin to collect benefits after you are released. In the event of a financial emergency, SSA may issue a payment immediately after your release if: 1) you are already due a payment; 2) you are eligible for SSDI or SSI benefits; and 3) your situation qualifies as a financial emergency, according to SSA’s rules.

After your release from prison, the amount of time it takes for you to begin collecting benefits depends on your situation. If your benefits were only suspended because you served less than one year in jail, SSA can usually restart them quickly. If your benefits were terminated because you served more than a year in prison, it may take a couple of months to have them reinstated. And if you were not previously entitled to or eligible for benefits but believe you would be eligible as of your release from prison, you need to apply and go through the process like anyone else, so it could be anywhere from months to a couple of years before you start collecting benefits.

There is a way to expedite the process called prerelease procedure. If your institution has a prerelease agreement with SSA, SSA can: 1) begin processing your application up to several months before your release date; 2) make a possible determination of how likely it is that you will be approved for benefits and, if so, what your monthly benefit payment might look like; and 3) start sending you benefits shortly after you are released from jail. Speak to someone at your facility to find out if a prerelease agreement exists. If not, either the institution or SSA can initiate the discussion to set up a prerelease agreement.