What Happens to Social Security Benefits When Someone is Released from Prison?

by Eric Minghella, Outreach Specialist with Disability Benefits Help

Re-adjusting to civilian life after being incarcerated is a challenge for many people who come out of our prison system.  Availability of financial support is one of the main concerns most formerly incarcerated men and women have.  More specifically, what happens to their Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits after they are released?  Let me shed some light on these important questions.

Social Security Benefits and Incarceration

If a person is on Social Security Disability benefits and they are convicted of a criminal offense that will imprison them for more than 30 consecutive days, their Social Security benefits will stop.  This means that they will not be able to receive benefits while incarcerated.  Fortunately, if they have a dependent, such as a spouse or a child who receive auxiliary benefits from their Social Security income, the dependents will continue to receive these for the duration of their relative’s prison sentence, provided they remain eligible. If the prison sentence is less than 30 consecutive days, then the  benefits will not be affected.

Can Social Security benefits be reinstated after a person is released from prison or jail?

Yes, the Social Security Disability benefits can be reinstated one month after release.  However, if a convicted person is on SSI, it is going to be different than if they are on SSDI.  On SSI, the payments can be reinstated, but if incarceration is 12 consecutive months or longer, the SSI benefits will be terminated and they will have to re-apply for SSI.

What happens to Medicare or Medicaid coverage during incarceration?

If a person is on Medicare Part A, their coverage will continue during their time in prison, regardless of the length of their sentence.  Medicare Part B will continue as well, provided the person incarcerated does not stop paying the premiums, in which case, the benefits will be terminated and they will have to file a new application with the Social Security Administration (SSA) during the open enrollment period.  If a person is on Medicaid and then they are incarcerated, their coverage will be terminated and they will need to apply again for Medicaid upon their release.

What steps can one take to ensure they are eligible for Social Security benefits?

One month after being released from prison or jail, a person can get their SSDI or SSI reinstated. To reinstate the  Social Security benefits, he or she will need to contact their local Social Security office directly and provide them with a copy of their release documents.  The person will also have up to 60 days before their official release date to get these documents in order to send to the SSA.  If a person has to re-apply for SSI benefits, they will need to do so in person at their local SSA office.  The SSA may need to determine if one is still considered disabled and eligible for Social Security benefits. Fortunately, the inmate rehabilitation counselor will be able to help in getting all the necessary papers in order so that one can promptly get back up on their feet and live a normal life again.  

For more information regarding this topic, call the SSA toll free at 1-800-772-1213 or check out these resources below: