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Freed From Prison But Trapped By Disability - Navigating the Social Security Regulations on Reentry

Thursday, 23 June 2016 13: 03
Written by Joni B. Bailey
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social security disability regulations prison

Re-entering normal life after being incarcerated is often a challenge.  Add to this difficulty the uncertainty created by Social Security Disability Insurance policies, and things get more stressful for everyone involved.  From my experience as a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative, here is what you need to know if you or a loved one has been incarcerated after being approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

During my work as a Southern Illinois Disability attorney, I've sometimes been asked...

Does Social Security pay benefits to prisoners?

If you receive Social Security Disability or Retirement Benefits (Title II) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your benefits will be suspended if you’re convicted of a criminal offense and sent to jail or prison or another penal institution for more than 30 continuous days. https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10133.pdf and https://www.ssa.gov/reentry/.

When does the suspension begin?

Suspension is effective with the month (including any part of that month) a convicted beneficiary begins confinement after court sentencing.  In many cases the sentencing is much later than the verdict or the plea of guilty.  https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0202607160.  The claimant will receive benefits even if he or she is in jail waiting for trial or sentencing.

What if the sentence includes credit for time served while waiting for trial and the prisoner received benefits prior to sentencing?

Benefits received while waiting for trial or sentencing will not be suspended and do not have to be repaid later if credited toward the sentence. https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0202607200.

Does a prisoner’s family continue to receive dependent benefits while the prisoner is incarcerated?

Yes, if they continue to be eligible.

When do the prisoner’s benefits start again?

The suspension ends when one of these occurs:

  • a pardon;
  • a parole; or
  • the completion of the sentence and an official release.

When should the prisoner contact the Social Security Administration to request that benefits start again after release?

As soon as the prisoner knows the release date, he or she should talk to someone in the institution and get assistance.

If the prison or institution has a prerelease agreement with SSA, a prison representative and the prisoner may initiate contact with SSA to restart benefits 90 days before claimant is to be released.

If the prison does not participate in a prerelease agreement with SSA, the prisoner must schedule an appointment with SSA to provide proof of release.  This appointment can be done by telephone.  A family member can help.

All Illinois Department of Correction facilities participate in a prerelease program. 

Does the prisoner receive the benefits that were not paid while he or she was in prison?

No.

Does the prisoner’s Medicare coverage end while in prison?

Medicare part B ends, but part A (Hospitalization) does not.

What if the prisoner is in a “half-way” house program?

As a Southern Illinois Social Security attorney, I can confirm that Social Security will not pay benefits while you reside in any facility under the authority of your state's Department of Corrections. Even though you are no longer in prison, you are still under the control and custody of your state's Department of Corrections until you complete your court-ordered sentence and you are officially released, or until the Department of Corrections places you on parole.

What if the prisoner was not disabled before incarceration but was injured while committing a felony or became disabled while in prison for a felony?

A claimant will not be eligible for benefits if the physical or mental disability was created or aggravated (but only to the extent of aggravation) while committing a felony or while imprisoned for a felony conviction after October 19, 1980.  https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/rulings/oasi/27/SSR83-21-oasi-27.html.

What if there is an outstanding warrant for the arrest of a claimant?

Effective April 1, 2009, SSA can only suspend or deny benefits based on an outstanding felony warrant for: escape from custody, flight to avoid prosecution or confinement, or flight-escape.  https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0202613860

Do my benefits restart automatically?

The Social Security Administration can reinstate payments the month a claimant is released unless the claimant was incarcerated for 12 consecutive months, in which, case he or she will need to file a new application and be approved.  Upon release, the claimant must visit the local Social Security Administration office and provide proof of release with valid identification in order to reinstate benefits. 

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.


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