The state of Colorado makes it very clear – there are many consequences to a felony conviction, both while incarcerated and for a lifetime.
Depending on an individual’s circumstances, there are restrictions on family matters, employment and public benefits programs. One common question that comes up, as it can affect both prisoners and their dependents, is whether convicted felons can receive Social Security benefits.
Social Security: More Than a Retirement Benefit
Social Security is the country’s largest income-maintenance program, with more than 64 million Americans collecting benefits each month. Many people associate Social Security with its Medicare benefits for senior citizens. However, about one-fifth of all Social Security beneficiaries receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or were young survivors of deceased workers.
SSDI is federal disability insurance program that is administered by each state. It pays monthly benefits to qualified individuals who cannot work for a year or more because of a disability. The dollar amount varies based on how long the beneficiary has been in the workforce; a portion of every working Coloradan’s paycheck goes toward the disability program as a Social Security tax.
SSDI Benefits and Convicted Felons
Let’s say Dan was working at a retail store when he became disabled and subsequently qualified for the SSDI benefit. Dan was driving while intoxicated one night and caused a serious accident that resulted in a woman’s death. He was arrested on vehicular homicide charges, a Class 4 felony in Colorado that has a 2-to-6 year prison term. Will Dan continue to receive SSDI benefits? What happens if he is convicted – will he or his wife and children continue to receive SSDI benefits?
According to the Social Security Administration:
- An arrest in and of itself does not end SSDI benefits.
- Benefits continue if the beneficiary is in jail for 30 days or less.
- Benefits will be suspended (temporarily withheld) if:
- The beneficiary has an outstanding warrant(s) related to escape or flight to avoid prosecution. (Until a class action suit in 2009, the agency denied benefits if any warrant existed, but the policy changed after the Martinez v. Astrue settlement.)
- The beneficiary is convicted on a felony and incarcerated for more than 30 days.
- Benefits will continue for the dependents of a convicted felon.
- Benefits will be discontinued during any month that parole or probation terms are violated.
Dan was convicted of the vehicular homicide charge and received a 2-year sentence. He will not receive SSDI benefits while he’s in prison, but his wife and children, as dependents, will as long as they remain eligible for the program.
The rules are generally the same for a related Social Security program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which assists disabled people who do not have the work history to qualify for SSDI. One notable difference comes when reinstating benefits: While SSDI benefits can resume one month after a convicted felon is released from person, those who receive SSI benefits and are incarcerated for 12 consecutive months or more must reapply for the program.
How an Attorney Can Help
As we’ve learned, convicted felons are typically not eligible to receive SSDI or SSI benefits while in prison. While some prisoner advocates believe they should continue to receive these benefits, the overall rationale is that, as wards of the state, prisoners receive room, board and health care. Thus, convicted felons do not receive the supplemental income these programs provide.
However, there are times when a convicted felon can benefit from having a lawyer’s SSDI/SSI-related services:
In anticipation of being released from prison: SSDI and SSI benefits should resume one month after a prisoner completes his or her sentence and returns to the community (except for SSI benefits if the prisoner is incarcerated for more than 12 months, as stated earlier).
If the prison has a prerelease agreement with the Social Security Administration, the process to resume benefits should be streamlined. However, if the prison isn’t providing the necessary information to the agency, an attorney can be helpful in advocating for the prisoner. If there is not a prerelease agreement, the attorney can act on the prisoner’s behalf by submitting required documents and providing information to Social Security.
Filing claims and appealing decisions: Convicted felons cannot receive SSDI benefits while incarcerated, but you can apply for them should a disability occur or become worse. If the SSI benefits were terminated, you will need to reapply for them. An attorney can help the prisoner complete and file either application, including gathering medical information and other details that support the chances of approval.
Many SSDI claims are not approved the first time an application is submitted, either for medical or technical reasons. Applicants have 60 days from the date a denial is received to file an appeal. The chances for a successful second attempt can increase with the assistance of an attorney experienced in disability law. He or she can build an even stronger case for the claim, such as with additional medical evidence and details about how the disability affects daily living. If the second application, called a reconsideration appeal, is unsuccessful, the attorney can represent the applicant before an administrative law judge and all the way up through federal court, if necessary.
An Experienced Advocate for You
The SSDI and SSI programs have many rules and can be complicated for anyone to navigate. The application and appeals processes can also be very slow.
John A. Anderson has years of expertise in disability claim law and is committed to helping everyone receive the Social Security benefits for which they are eligible. If you need help with an SSDI application or someone to represent you if your disability claim is denied, call his office at (303) 880-7994 or contact him online to learn more about his practice.