Social Security is the commonly used term for the social safety net programs provided by the United States Government, including Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs. These programs are all administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Social Security is primarily subsidized through payroll taxes (taxes automatically deducted from your paycheck) also known as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). If you’ve looked at your paystub, you’ve probably noticed these deductions listed as OASDI or another acronym specific to the program.
If you are self-employed, those taxes are collected through the Self Employed Contributions Act Tax (SECA).
The IRS collects these taxes and transfers them to trust funds administrated by Social Security Administration. Here the funds are held and disbursed to those qualifying under the OASDI programs.
As the quote famously attributed to Benjamin Franklin states, the only certainties in life are death and taxes. As paying your taxes is inevitable, is redeeming the benefits of those taxes guaranteed to you as well, even with a felony conviction? First, let’s find out if you qualify.
Who can collect Social Security?
The general eligibility standards for Social Security benefits are being age 62 or older and having paid the aforementioned taxes for ten years.
Who can collect Social Security Disability Insurance?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is paid to those who can’t work because of a serious medical condition that is expected to last at least a year or result in death. Workman’s Compensation and short-term disability are different programs from SSDI. Social Security Disability Insurance does not provide partial or short-term benefits.
Who can collect Supplemental Security Income?
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for people aged 65 or older who are blind or disabled and whose income is below a pre-set limit.
Restrictions for Felons
If you have a felony conviction, you are still eligible for these benefits in most cases. Assuming you meet the eligibility requirements, you can collect payments on a monthly basis except in certain specific circumstances.
While you are incarcerated (jail, prison or other penal-type institutions governed by the judicial system) you are not eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income payments. This is because your expenses are being covered by the institution where you are serving your time.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits are usually paid on a monthly basis. Any of these benefits cannot be paid to you during any month you were incarcerated, even if it was for a period of less than one month.
Keep this in mind, because you can usually begin applying for these benefits once you have been released for a period, usually one month.
You are not able to collect Social Security Disability Insurance benefits for the months you have an outstanding warrant for a felony, or a warrant for flight-escape, flight to avoid prosecution or confinement or escape from custody.
You cannot collect Social Security Disability Insurance benefits if your disability is a result of a mental or physical defect that was acquired or aggravated during the commission of a crime. You also cannot collect if your disability manifested or was aggravated while you were incarcerated for a felony conviction.
If you violate parole or probation, you cannot collect Social Security Disability Insurance payments for the month you were in violation.
Someone who is unemployed is not eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. That’s why it is so important to report any injuries or illnesses suffered at work immediately, so you can collect disability if the illness or injury ends up being serious enough to keep you from being able to work long-term.
Taking those situations into account, if you have been released and meet the specific requirements for the individual program, you are likely eligible to collect benefits. Please keep in mind you may not be automatically eligible for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income after your release. Mainly because your lack of income was directly related to your incarceration.
If you were receiving Social Security before, those payments will be suspended if you are incarcerated for more than 30 continuous days. Those benefits can be reinstated one month after the month of release.
Please note that Supplemental Security Income benefits expire after 12 consecutive months of confinement, so if your sentence was at least that long, you will need to apply again after release.
The pamphlet titled, “Entering the Community After Incarceration – How We Can Help” from the Social Security Administration has information on reinstating benefits. You can find the pamphlet here.
How do you find out how much you have coming to you?
You can find out what your projected benefit amount is by creating an account with the Social Security Administration website here. This projection is based on your historical taxable income, the number of years in the workforce and your age.
Reinstatement of Benefits after Incarceration
If your Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits are suspended due to incarceration, you will need to contact Social Security. In order to process your request, you will need to submit a copy of your release documents.
If you are eligible but were not receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income before your incarceration, you will need to file a new application. Again, you will need to provide your official release forms proving your release along with your application. One thing to keep in mind is that you cannot begin to receive benefits until you are released.
It is possible to file an application prior to your release. It is recommended to begin this process several months before your release to ensure you receive benefits as soon as possible after your release. To begin the process, you must have a release date, and your institution must have a prerelease agreement with the local Social Security field office.
A prerelease agreement is when the facility you are in has a formal or informal agreement with the local Social Security Administration field office to work together to process requests from inmates scheduled for release. These can even be done on a case-by-case basis, so if your facility doesn’t have one, it shouldn’t be too much of a burden to put an informal request in place.
Once an agreement is in place, the institution is responsible to provide you with someone to help you, such as a social worker or reentry coordinator.
They are also responsible for notifying the field office of any changes to your release date and provide your new address upon your release.
If you anticipate being eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, the institution should find out what the processing time is for SSDI claims and submit the claim with enough time to be processed before your release.
They should also provide any medical documentation necessary to validate the disability.
Reentering society after incarceration isn’t easy for anyone. This is especially true if you do not have a job or a place to live upon your release. Your primary goal will be to find a place to live and a way to financially support yourself. Having this stability will help you move on with your life and prevent you from falling into old habits or harmful environments that may have contributed to your previous crimes. You will want to take advantage of every resource available to you.
As a contributing member of society, these benefits are yours. You should not feel badly about taking them, as you have paid taxes to support the system that can now help to support you in getting back on your feet. These benefits could be valuable to you if you have been incarcerated for a substantial amount of time and your job skills are outdated. This is especially true if you are near the age of 65.
For additional information, the pamphlet put out by the Social Security Administration titled, “What Prisoners Need to know” located here is a valuable resource. You should also familiarize yourself with the Social Security Administration website, www.ssa.gov. If you are unable to find the answers to any of your questions about Social Security benefits on their website, try their have a toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 and are available to answer your questions 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Many cities also have local Social Security Offices you can visit in person.
Lastly, if you feel you are deserving of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, but are being denied, you may wish to seek out an attorney specializing in such cases.