A felony conviction alone will not keep you from being approved for SSDI or SSI disability benefits (or dependents or survivors Social Security benefits). However, in some cases, your benefits can be suspended during the time you are imprisoned.
Eligibility for Felons
The general rule is that a felony conviction has no impact on eligibility for Social Security or SSI benefits. There are a few exceptions to this rule. You are not eligible for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) if:
- your disability arose (or was made worse) while you were committing a felony
- your disability arose (or was made worse) while you were imprisoned in a jail, prison, or correctional facility for a felony conviction, or
- you made yourself a widow or an orphan by killing your spouse or parent (this applies to Social Security survivors benefits).
However, it's worthwhile to apply for SSDI benefits even if one of the above situations apply to you, because, even though you won't get cash benefits, you may be granted a period of disability that will "freeze" your earnings record for Social Security, which can prevent your eventual retirement or dependents benefits from decreasing.
In addition, convictions for certain federal offenses involving subversive activities such as treason, sabotage, and similar crimes can limit your eligibility for SSDI benefits. In these cases, courts are authorized to issue orders providing that wages paid to you during or before the quarter in which the conviction occurred, or net earnings from self-employment during or before the taxable year in which the conviction occurred can be excluded from the determination of your disability benefit amount.
Benefits are not paid to those who are confined in a jail, prison, or other penal institution, for either a felony or a misdemeanor. Because your food, shelter, and medical needs are met during periods of imprisonment, you are not eligible for benefits while incarcerated – unless you participate in an approved vocational rehabilitation program (a program that helps you return to work upon your release).
Your SSDI benefits will be suspended after 30 days of incarceration (unless you participate in a rehabilitation program). Your SSDI benefits will be reinstated the month following your release.
Your SSI benefits will be suspended after you are incarcerated for one full calendar month (unless you participate in a rehabilitation program). Your SSI benefits may be reinstated without a new disability application only if you are released from custody before your benefits have been suspended for 12 months. You must report to Social Security when you enter or leave an institution.
A convicted felon can apply for benefits while still imprisoned if the penal institution has a pre-release application procedure (and possibly an agreement with the Social Security Administration providing for pre-release applications). Otherwise, a convicted felon can apply for benefits immediately upon release from prison or jail.
Learn about disability benefits when you move from jail to a halfway house or mental health facility under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.
Convicted felons who flee or escape are not entitled to benefits. Specifically, you aren't entitled to benefits if you have an outstanding warrant for:
- Flight to avoid prosecution or confinement
- Escape from custody, or
Note: Before April 1, 2009, if you had any active or outstanding felony warrant, the SSA would disqualify you from receiving benefits even if you were taking no steps to flee the jurisdiction or were unaware of the outstanding warrant. However, this is no longer true, so if you had certain benefits withheld (or collected from you as overpayments) before April 1, 2009, you may be entitled to payments of these benefits.
Parole and Probation Violators
You aren't entitled to benefits during any month that you are violating the terms of your parole or probation.