What happens to an individual’s disability benefits when they are convicted of a felony offense and sentenced to a time of incarceration?
Answer: Under Section 404.468 of the Code of Regulations, “No monthly benefits will be paid to any individual for any month any part of which the individual is confined in a jail, prison, or other penal institution or correctional facility for conviction of a felony.” Thus, if an individual receiving disability benefits commits and is later convicted of a felony offense, any disability payments he/she was receiving at the time of his/her incarceration will stop until such a time as the individual is released.
*Please note: both SSDI and SSI payments are subject to termination if an individual is convicted on a felony offense and as a result is sentenced to a period of incarceration. However, auxiliary benefits, those benefits paid to eligible family members, will continue even if the individual is not receiving benefits at the time because of his/her felony conviction and imprisonment.
Restoring SSI and SSDI Benefits After Being Released from Prison
Although an individual may lose his/her benefits during the time of incarceration, benefits can be restored as soon as the individual is released from prison. The procedures for having disability payments reinstated differ slightly according to the type of benefit that an individual was receiving prior to his/her confinement.
Depending on the length that an individual expects to be confined, he/she may be able to begin a “pre-release procedure” while still incarcerated. This is completed through a “Pre-Release Agreement” between the jail and the SSA and applies to inmates that have been or expect to be incarcerated for a period of less than one year. Although felony sentences by law carry a prison sentence of more than one year, it is possible that a defendant could be given credit for any time he/she has already served while awaiting trial and/or disposition in their case. An example of a hypothetical situation is as follows:
“John,” a SSI recipient of five years, is convicted on felony theft, which in the state of Georgia is theft of property in excess of $500.00 and is punishable by a possible term of imprisonment of 1-10 years. John was unable to afford bond and as a result spent six months in jail awaiting trial and/or disposition in his matter. John subsequently entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 15 months in the state penitentiary. At his discretion, the sentencing judge gave John credit for the time he had already served, meaning that John only had nine months remaining. In this particular case, John was able to start the paperwork necessary to reinstate his benefits while incarcerated. Since John was proactive, it is likely that his benefits will start immediately following his release. If John has chosen to wait until his release to start the reinstatement of his benefits, again he would have received payment for any day that he was eligible, but the probability of his checks being delayed would have significantly increased.
Since any SSI award is based on the recipient’s income, individuals presently confined need to know what his/her income will be upon release and what resources he/she will have available. In addition, the SSA will need to know what other persons, if any, will be residing with the defendant following their release. On the day a disability claimant is released from confinement, they are encouraged to go directly to their Social Security office with personal identification and proof of their release.
If an individual is receiving SSDI at the time of his/her incarceration, he/she will remain on the rolls during their jail or prison term, regardless of the length of their sentence. Like with SSI, SSDI payments will stop when a claimant is incarcerated and recipients will need to request reinstatement of their benefits when the time comes to be released from prison.
Although there is no pre-release procedure for SSDI as there is for SSI, jails or prisons that have Pre-Release Agreements for SSI can also use the same form to help SSDI recipients get the reinstatement process started. Those inmates unable to obtain a Pre-Release Agreement form should inquire as to whether the prison staff knows how SSDI payments can be restarted upon their release. If all else fails, incarcerated individuals should seek the assistance of their family members who can contact their local Social Security office for more information. In addition, the Social Security’s website, http://www.ssa.gov/disability/ contains a wealth of useful information.
In closing, it is against the law for any person convicted of a felony and sentenced to a term of imprisonment to continue to receive social security disability benefits during their period of incarceration. Likewise, it is illegal for someone other than the intended recipient to cash a disability check in the name of another person, specifically under the disguise of the individual in prison.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 29 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.