The Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) disability programs provide essential income for disabled individuals, and in some cases, also pay dependent or auxiliary benefits to family members of the disabled. These benefits become a cornerstone of family finances when a wage earner is no longer able to work due to disability. Families come to depend on this income to meet their everyday needs, but what happens when a disability recipient goes to jail?
Social Security Disability Eligibility when Sentenced to Jail Time
A jail or prison sentence affects disability benefits in different ways, based on the crime for which you’re convicted and the length of your sentence. Criminal offenses affect disability benefits, but non-criminal offenses do not.
If you are convicted of a criminal offense, then the SSA will suspend your benefits if your sentence is 30-consecutive days or longer. If your jail time is shorter, then your benefits remain in effect, even while you serve your sentence. If convicted of a non-criminal offense, your disability is unaffected, even if you serve a 30-day or longer sentence.
Criminal Convictions and Benefit Type
Benefits come in multiple forms, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and auxiliary or dependent benefits, which can be paid through SSI or SSDI. A jail or prison sentence for a criminal offense that exceeds 30 days affects each type of benefit differently.
With SSI, you will not receive payments during your prison sentence of 30-days or longer. However, your benefits can be reinstated in the same month in which you are released from jail, as long as your sentence wasn’t 12-months or longer. If your sentence was a year or longer, then you will need to reapply for SSI after you serve your time.
With SSDI, your benefits are suspended during your 30-day or longer jail sentence, but reinstatement is available in the month following your release. The SSA may need to verify you are still disabled and still eligible for benefits upon your release though, especially if your prison sentence was lengthy.
Dependents that receive auxiliary SSDI and/or SSI continue to get benefits as usual, even if your benefits are suspended. In other words, if your spouse or minor children get dependent benefits because you’re disabled, their benefits are unaffected by your jail sentence as long as you and they remain eligible.
Medicaid and Medicare Eligibility and Jail Time
Disability recipients are often covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid. Your Medicare Part A coverage continues while you serve your sentence, regardless of sentence length. Medicare Part B continues too, as long as you pay your premiums. Medicaid coverage can continue during your sentence as well. If your eligibility for Medicaid ends during your jail time, you can reapply upon release from prison.
Getting Help with Eligibility Concerns, Reinstatement, or Reapplication
Some prisons have agreements with the SSA to provide eligibility, application, and reinstatement assistance programs. You can take advantage of any program like this that exists at the institution where you serve your time. A disability attorney or advocate can also assist you with eligibility concerns, getting benefits reinstated, or in reapplying after your release.