Imprisonment and Your Social Security Benefits

What is the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits?

Social Security disability insurance benefits (SSD or SSDI) and Social Security retirement benefits are only available for individuals that have paid into the Social Security system.  These benefits are funded through past contributions taken out of your wages by your employer over the lifetime of your working career.  Retirement benefits are provided to individuals who are age 62.  SSD/SSDI benefits are funded similarly to Social Security retirement benefits, but are for those individuals that suffer from a medical condition that lasting over a year or that will result in your death.

On the other hand, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is paid to individuals who are older than 65 years old or who are disabled and have a particular income required for assistance.

Why does it matter what type of Social Security benefits I receive?

Depending on what kind of benefits you receive from the Social Security Administration will determine when your benefits will cease, whether you or your family can receive benefits during the incarceration period, and the process for reinstatement of your benefits upon release.

Do I get to keep my Social Security benefits if my spouse or I are incarcerated?

If you receive any type of Social Security benefit (SSD/SSDI, SSI, or retirement) you may not collect your benefits during your period of incarceration.

For SSD/SSDI and retirement, your benefits will be suspended if your incarceration lasts more than 30 continuous days upon a criminal conviction.  For SSI, your benefits will be suspended for the entire incarceration period whether it is one day or 11 months.

If you are a spouse of an individual that receives SSD/SSDI or retirement benefits and were collecting your own payments from your spouse’s account before your spouse’s incarceration, your benefits will continue while your spouse is incarcerated, as long as you remain an eligible recipient.  If your spouse receives SSI, you do not receive a payment from his/her benefit and therefore, will not receive any benefits while your spouse is incarcerated.

Can I get my benefits back when I serve my sentence?

Again, the answer to this question depends on what kind of benefits you receive.

For SSD/SSDI and retirement, your benefits can be reinstated upon your release.  Your payments will get to you the month following the month you are released.  For example, if you are released July 3, 2014, your benefits will be reinstated for the month of August 2014, but you will not receive that August payment until the month of September 2014 since benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due.

For SSI, your benefits can also be reinstated upon your release.  Your payments will almost immediately be reinstated (as long as you were not confined for 12 months or longer).  Let’s say you are released from a three-month incarceration on July 3, 2014.  Your SSI will be reinstated as of your release date, which means you will receive a partial payment for the remaining days in July and will receive your full benefits for August 2014.  NOTE:  If you were incarcerated for more than 12 months, your benefits were terminated!

Do my benefits reinstate automatically upon my release?

NO!  Regardless of what kind of Social Security benefits you might receive, you must request that your benefits be reinstated.  You will need to contact your local office and provide them a copy of your release documents before they can take action upon your request for reinstatement of your benefits.  It is advisable that you contact your local Social Security office to determine what documentation you need and what specific steps you must take to get your benefits reinstated.

How do I reinstate my benefits if I was receiving SSI before my 12 month or more incarceration?

As previously mentioned, your SSI benefits terminated while you were incarcerated.  Therefore, it is necessary that you file a new application for benefits with the Social Security Administration if you think you might still be eligible to receive benefits.  There are several required steps with specific documentation required for each new application. Contact your local Social Security office to determine what you need and what steps to take to quickly get your benefit payments to you.

How will the Social Security Administration know if I’m incarcerated?  What if I just don’t tell them so my family continues to receive my benefits?

It is YOUR responsibility to advise the Social Security Administration that you are incarcerated and are no longer eligible to receive benefits.  When you initially began receiving your benefits, you were advised of certain situations that would affect your ability to receive your benefits.  One of those situations was your incarceration.  If you receive payments from Social Security that are not due to you, you may face punishment for your actions.  It is always best to be upfront with the Social Security Administration in order to avoid compromising any future benefits or repercussions for your deception to a government agency.

Who should I contact if I have further questions?

If you are unsure what kind of benefits you receive or have questions or concerns regarding your incarceration and your benefits, please visit the Social Security Administration website or call them at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).