Jonathan Ginsberg of the Social Security Disability Blog writes about what happens to your Social Security benefits if you are in jail or prison.
I recently received an email question from a blog reader about the eligibility of a convicted felon for Social Security disability benefits. There is a simple answer here – you may not collect disability benefits during the time you are incarcerated. Social Security ruling 83-28 addresses this situation directly.
SSR 83-28 notes that Congress intended to deny prisoners Social Security disability benefits during incarceration because, “prisoners … do not need a continuing source of income because their basic needs are already furnished at public expense.”
This seems pretty cut and dried. However, the more I look at this issue, the more I wonder if benefits can be paid to an incarcerated individual either while held before a conviction, or while incarcerated for a misdemeanor.
The Social Security regulation on this topic 20 CFR 404.468 states:
(a) General. 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. This rule applies to disability benefits (§404.315) and child’s benefits based on disability (§404.350) effective with benefits payable for months beginning on or after October 1, 1980. For all other monthly benefits, this rule is effective with benefits payable for months beginning on or after May 1, 1983. However, it applies only to the prisoner; benefit payments to any other person who is entitled on the basis of the prisoner’s wages and self-employment income are payable as though the prisoner were receiving benefits.
(b) Felonious offenses. An offense will be considered a felony if
(1) It is a felony under applicable law: or
(2) In a jurisdiction which does not classify any crime as a felony, it is an offense punishable by death or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
(c) Confinement. In general, a jail, prison, or other penal institution or correctional facility is a facility which is under the control and jurisdiction of the agency in charge of the penal system or in which convicted criminals can be incarcerated. Confinement in such a facility continues as long as the individual is under a sentence of confinement and has not been released due to parole or pardon. An individual is considered confined even though he or she is temporarily or intermittently outside of that facility (e.g., on work release, attending school, or hospitalized).
(d) Vocational rehabilitation exception. The nonpayment provision of paragraph (a) of this section does not apply if a prisoner who is entitled to benefits on the basis of disability is actively and satisfactorily participating in a rehabilitation program which has been specifically approved for the individual by court of law. In addition, the Commissioner must determine that the program is expected to result in the individual being able to do substantial gainful activity upon release and within a reasonable time. No benefits will be paid to the prisoner for any month prior to the approval of the program.
In summary, this regulation says:
- A disabled individual’s Disability Insurance benefits are stopped while incarcerated for a felony conviction.
- Benefits remain stopped during intermittent release such as work release, school or hospitalization.
- Auxiliary benefits (benefits to spouse or children) continue during the incarceration.
- Benefits can continue during parole.
But what about benefits during incarceration, but prior to conviction for a felony?
What if the conviction is for a misdemeanor?
20 CFR 404.468 only stops SSDI benefits for a felony conviction. This suggests that benefits could possibly continue before the conviction (despite incarceration) or if the conviction is only for a misdemeanor.
So, does SSR 83-28 trump 20 CFR 404.468 and stop benefits in these instances? I honestly cannot say.
Here is another interesting wrinkle: 20 CFR 416.1339 deals with suspension of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits (note: not SSDI benefits) for fugitive felons:
(a) Basis for suspension. An individual is ineligible for SSI benefits for any month during which he or she is
1) Fleeing to avoid prosecution for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, which is a felony under the laws of the place from which the individual flees (or which, in the case of the State of New Jersey, is a high misdemeanor under the laws of that State); or
2) Fleeing to avoid custody or confinement after conviction for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, which is a felony under the laws of the place from which the individual flees (or which, in the case of the State of New Jersey, is a high misdemeanor under the laws of that State); or
3) Violating a condition of probation or parole imposed under Federal or State law.
Basically, your SSI benefits are stopped while avoiding arrest for a felony warrant (before conviction) or for a felony conviction, or while violating probation or parole.
Do your benefits stop and return between arrest and conviction?
How about this fact pattern: let’s say you pick up a felony charge on January 1. You are arrested on February 1. And you are convicted on March 1.
Does this mean your benefits stop between January 1 and January 31 for fleeing to avoid prosecution for a felony crime? It looks that way.
Once you are in custody, do your benefits resume between February 1 – February 28 because 1) you are no longer fleeing, and 2) even though you are in custody, you have not been convicted of a felony?
Finally, are benefits stopped at all, regardless of conviction or incarceration, if the charge/conviction is for a misdemeanor?
Update: The general rule of thumb is that an individual is not eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI) during incarceration. It does not matter if the conviction is for a misdemeanor or a felony.
However, when benefits stop differs depending on whether you are receiving SSDI or SSI. As a result, individuals may receive Social Security benefits for a short time after incarceration. Click here for more information.