Social Security Benefits & Incarceration

By Dell Markey

People who are housed in prison, jail or other facilities under the supervision of the Department of Corrections for more than 30 days are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits other than Medicare. Inmates have been excluded from SSI since that program's inception. They have been excluded from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), retirement and other benefits since 1980.

Receiving Social Security Benefits before Incarceration

If someone received Social Security benefits before being incarcerated, those benefits will be suspended if she is sentenced to or incarcerated for 30 days or more. SSI payments can be reinstated the same month you are released from incarceration. SSDI, retirement and other Social Security benefits can be reinstated the month following release. The Social Security Administration uses calendar months to determine eligibility, so if a prisoner is released on May 1, she will still be ineligible for May benefits. However, she may receive benefits for June if she is eligible.

Reinstating Social Security Benefits after Incarceration

If you have been incarcerated for less than 12 months, your benefits may be reinstated the month after your release without needing to re-file. If you have been incarcerated longer than 12 months, you will need to re-file for your benefits with the Social Security Administration. Regardless of how long you have been incarcerated, you will need to show the SSA proof of your release to qualify for benefits.

Not everyone gets Social Security benefits. To qualify for Social Security disability or retirement programs, you typically must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years. To qualify for SSI or SSDI, you must be able to demonstrate that you are disabled to the point that you cannot continue to do any work for which you are qualified, or could reasonably be trained. SSI carries additional eligibility restrictions based on income and possessions.

What to do While Incarcerated

If you or someone you know is incarcerated and might qualify for Social Security benefits, you can contact the Social Security Administration once you have a release date scheduled. This can help expedite the process -- especially if you are filing for disability benefits, which typically take several months for approval.

The SSA maintains pre-release agreements with many institutions to expedite inmates' approval for Social Security benefits upon release. Check with the officials at the facility. They can tell you whether your institution has such an agreement with the SSA. If so, they can make the necessary connections on your behalf.

If the institution does not have a pre-release agreement with the SSA, inmates, their family or their legal representatives can contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 once the release date is known. Whoever contacts the SSA will need to have your Social Security number ready.

If you are eligible for Social Security benefits, the SSA can usually get payments started shortly after your release. In some cases, if you are eligible for benefits but there is a delay in getting your benefits approved, the SSA can make an emergency payment immediately.

Medicare and Medicaid

A person incarcerated for 30 days or more has his Medicaid benefits suspended. Those who have Medicare Part A will continue to have those benefits throughout the time of incarceration. Medicare Part B, which is an insurance policy, will remain in force as long as the premiums are paid. If the premiums go unpaid, the benefits will lapse and the incarcerated person will need to wait until the next eligibility period after he is released to re-apply.

About the Author

Dell Markey is a full-time journalist. When he isn't writing business spotlights for local community papers, he writes and has owned and operated a small business.