Can I receive Social Security benefits while serving a prison sentence?
A question that Social Security attorneys encounter from time to time is whether someone can receive Social Security benefits while serving a sentence in prison. The answer depends on the circumstances.
Social Security benefits generally come in two forms: Social Security disability benefits, and Social Security retirement benefits. Those who have recently been employed and paid Social Security taxes, and who are unable to work because of a serious medical condition that will last for at least one year, are potentially eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. Those who have reached at least age 62, and who have worked for 10 years and paid Social Security taxes, are potentially eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits.
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is a related, but technically separate, program administered by the Social Security Administration. Those who have reached at least age 65, or who are blind or disabled, and whose income and resources are below certain limits, are potentially eligible to receive SSI benefits.
For those receiving Social Security or SSI benefits, their benefits will probably not be affected if they are admitted to prison for a continuous period of fewer than 30 days because of a conviction for a criminal offense. On the other hand, for those admitted to prison for a continuous period of more than 30 days, their benefits will likely be suspended. Benefits to spouses and children, however, will probably not be suspended, so long as they remain eligible under the Social Security Administration’s rules.
Those whose Social Security benefits are suspended during a prison sentence of more than 30 days can have their benefits reinstated beginning one month after the month in which they are released. For example, if Paul Prisoner served a six-month sentence in the Dayton Correctional Institution and were released on June 5, 2011, then his benefits could be reinstated beginning in July, 2011.
Those whose SSI benefits are suspended during a prison sentence of more than 30 days can have their benefits reinstated beginning in the same month that they are released. They will lose their eligibility, however, if their sentence lasts for 12 or more consecutive months; when they are released, they must submit a new application for SSI benefits. For example, if Ivan Inmate served a six-month sentence in the Dayton Correctional Institution and were released on June 5, 2011, then his benefits could be reinstated during the same month. He would receive partial benefits for June, 2011, and full benefits beginning in July, 2011. If Ivan served a sentence of 15 months, on the other hand, then he would have to submit a new application for benefits upon his release.
For those who were not receiving either Social Security or SSI benefits before they were admitted to prison, their eligibility following release is unaffected. In other words, when they were released from prison, they would apply for benefits like anyone else. If you have questions about how serving a prison sentence might affect your ability to receive Social Security or SSI benefits, then talk to a lawyer who is familiar with Social Security law. You might even be able to start the process of reinstating your benefits, or applying for benefits, before you are released.