Social Security Inmate Benefits

Social Security LogoThe impact of incarceration on various Social Security inmate benefits varies by program.  In general a conviction does not impact benefits but being physically in jail, prison or a federal correctional facility does!  This page attempts to summarize the effects an incarceration has on the main federal social security programs.   After reading this page its best to contact Social Security to discuss your specific situation.  Social Security regulations can and do change at the whim of Congress!  This page coves Social Security, Social Security Disability, and Medicare/Medicaid.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The impact of incarceration on inmates and various Social Security benefits varies by program.  In general a conviction, does not impact benefits but being physically in jail, prison or a federal correctional facility does.

What happens to Federal retirement benefits upon incarceration?  For Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits the answer is simple: not good!   Benefits are not payable for the months of incarceration.  In other words, for an inmate that “ages” into the system (becomes older than 62 while incarcerated) no payments will be made regardless of how many years they paid into the system.  For someone that was receiving benefits and stumbles late in life, payments stop 30 days after continuous imprisonment.

The loss of benefits is not permanent, but does last for the duration of the incarceration.  Social Security benefits can be restarted beginning the month following the month of your release.  The restart is not a automatic.  You must contact the social security office and begin the process anew.   In addition to the normal documents, you will need to provide proof of your release (showing up in person is not proof! ).

Although the inmate cannot receive monthly Social Security benefits while confined,  any eligible family who was receiving benefits will continue receiving benefits.  In other words,  payments only stop for the imprisoned.

SSI benefits are slightly different.  If the incarceration lasts less then 12 months, benefits can restart the month of release.  If the incarceration is 12 consecutive months or longer eligibility for SSI will terminate and the person must file a new application.

Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI)

A felony conviction does not affect ones ability to collect Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI), but being in jail or prison does.  Like SSI described above,  if a person is doing time in either a local jail, state prison of federal facility,  any benefits being paid will stop after 30 days and can be reinstated if the incarceration is less than 12 months.  For incarcerations over 12 months, the person must reapply for benefits.

Generally a felony conviction has no bearing on benefits, with a few note worthy exceptions.  SSDI will not be paid if:

  • the disability arose or was made worse while committing a felony;
  • the disability arose or was made worse while in jail, prison, or correctional facility;
  • the applicant is an escape or in flight to avoid prosecution or confinement.

Medicare and Medicaid

Eligibility for Medicare Part A continues without interruption while imprisoned.   However, Medicare Part B will terminate if premium payments are not made while in prison.  Prior to incarceration, the inmate should consult an attorney about giving someone, like a trusted family member, Power of Attorney so payments can be made while in prison.   If premiums were paid as a deduction from some other income source (like a social security check) and that payment stops due to incarceration then the payments may stop without you being aware.

Remember you are dealing with Social Security,  not the IRS!  They will not put a great deal of effort in tracking you down regarding a payment irregularity.  A few obligatory letters will be sent to your last address of record and then termination.  This may not be a problem if a supportive spouse is still living at the last address.  However, if you rented or were involved in a hostile divorce during the process then Social Security may not be able to reach you.

Starting  SSI, SSDI and Other Benefits Upon Reentry

The amount of time it takes to start benefits depends on the particular situation. If benefits were suspended (12 months or less of incarceration) they can usually be restarted without much delay by contacting social security.

If benefits have been terminated (incarcerations over 12 months), it could take months before benefits resume.  Social Security has prerelease agreements with some institutions whereby the paperwork process can be started 30 days prior to release.   Contact Social Security office and/or the jail, prison or incarceration facility where the inmate resides.

Contacting Social Security

For more information and to find copies of Social Security publications, visit their website at  or call toll-free, 1-800-772-1213 (for the deaf or hard of hearing, call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778). Calls are confidential and a live representative answer calls from 7AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday.  There is an automated service at other times.

Helpful Social Security publications:

What Prisoners Need To Know
Entering The Community After Incarceration — How We Can Help

Updated: February 15, 2015 — 12:28 am