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Can you collect Social Security benefits while in prison?

If you are convicted of a crime and incarcerated for more than 30 consecutive days, your Social Security benefits are suspended for the duration of your sentence. They can be reinstated in the month following your release. 

The same goes for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a Social Security–administered benefit program for low-income people who are disabled or over 65. There's one key difference: If you are imprisoned for longer than 12 months, SSI benefits are terminated outright and you will have to reapply upon release. 

Some penal institutions have prerelease agreements with Social Security. If you are being held in such a facility, you or an official there should notify Social Security 90 days before your release to start the process for resuming your benefits. If your institution does not have such an agreement, you’ll need to contact Social Security when you get out and provide your official release documents. 

While any Social Security benefits you are collecting are suspended while you are incarcerated, there is no impact on benefits paid to family members on your work record. If your spouse or children are collecting benefits on your record when you are imprisoned, those will continue.  

You’ll find more information in the Social Security publication “What Prisoners Need to Know.”

Keep in mind

  • Although Medicare generally does not pay medical bills if you’re incarcerated, Medicare Part A (hospitalization) coverage does not lapse while you are in custody. However, Medicare Part B (health insurance) terminates if you do not pay your monthly premiums; you would then have to re-enroll upon release and might face a late fee. The Social Security fact sheet “Benefits After Incarceration: What You Need to Know” has details.
  • If you become eligible for Social Security while serving time, you can start the filing process to begin collecting benefits as soon as possible after your release. Once you know your release date, notify your institution that you want to start Social Security or SSI. If your prison has a prerelease agreement with Social Security, that will ease the application process considerably.

Published October 10, 2018

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