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Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits with a Criminal Conviction?

Applying for Social Security benefits, whether those benefits come in the form of Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are notorious for taking a protracted period of time to process and a high rate of initial denials. Due to the fairly intimidating barriers to entry for many applicants, some people have serious concerns about their ability to even qualify for benefits, especially if they have a criminal record.

If you have a criminal conviction in your background, that alone will not disqualify you from being eligible for apply for, and receive, SSDI or SSI disability benefits. In addition, if you were arrested by law enforcement, but were not convicted, then your disability benefits application will not be adversely impacted. Though, there are some notable exceptions you should be aware of.

Some Criminal Offenses Can Impact Your Ability to Apply for Disability Benefits

Despite the general rule that a prior criminal conviction will not impact benefit eligibility, there are some criminal offenses that can impact an applicant’s ability to receive disability benefits. For example, if someone was convicted of committing sabotage or treason, the court has the discretionary authority to issue an order excluding the wages paid to you during, or prior to the quarter in which the conviction occurred, or net earnings from self-employment during or before the taxable year in which the conviction occurred. This means those earnings will not be included when calculating your disability benefit amount.

Other Criminal Activities That Could Negatively Impact Your Eligibility for Disability Benefits

Though the general rule that a prior criminal conviction will not impact your ability to apply for disability benefits remains valid, if you are about to be arrested or are currently serving a prison sentence, then your disability benefits application will probably be denied.

If you have an outstanding warrant for a felony or crime, then you will not be able to apply for disability benefits. The same risk of denial is associated with someone who is evading arrest for committing a crime.

Applicants will not be paid benefits while serving a term in prison for at least 30 days. Though, disability benefits can be reinstated, typically in the month after someone is released from prison.

While a criminal record doesn’t impact your disability benefits application, you cannot apply for benefits if you sustain a disability while you’re committing a crime. If the SSA determines that your disability occurred because of the crime you committed, you may be permanently prohibited from applying for benefits for your particular disability. Other situations that can hinder your ability to receive disability benefits include the following:

  • your disability arose during the course of committing the criminal act;
  • your disability arose while you were imprisoned;
  • you made yourself a widow or an orphan by killing your spouse or parent

Fleeing Felons Not Eligible for Disability Benefits

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
  • Flight-escape.

Parole and Probation Violators are Not Eligible for Disability Benefits

Along with the various exceptions described above, you are not eligible to receive benefits during any month that you are actively violating the terms of your parole or the term of your probation. This prohibition was put in place to encourage compliance while someone is under a term of parole and/or probation.

What If Someone Becomes Disabled While in Prison?

If someone develops a disability while serving a term in prison, then they have the option to apply for disability benefits, but there is a high possibility of denial and you will probably not receive any benefits while in prison. Even if your application is approved, it is important to note that the SSA typically halts the payment of those benefits while individuals are actively incarcerated. You can begin receiving those disability benefits after you were released from prison.

Eligibility for Disability Benefits with a Felony Conviction in Your Background

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:

However, it’s worthwhile to apply for SSDI benefits even if one of the above situations apply to you, because, even though you will not receive 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.

Currently Incarcerated

It is important to understand that disability benefits are not paid to individuals who are currently confined in a jail, prison, or other penal institution, whether they were convicted for a felony or a misdemeanor.

The rationale for not paying benefits to incarcerated individuals is partly due to the fact your are receiving food, shelter, and medical treatment (at no charge) during the period of incarceration. However, there is a small exception to be aware of. Incarcerated individuals participating in an approved vocational rehabilitation program could reinstate your ability to apply for disability benefits.

What Happens If You Were Receiving Benefits and Started Serving a Prison Sentence

If you were receiving disability benefits and subsequently got convicted for a crime that included a prison term, then your SSDI benefits will be suspended after 30 days of incarceration. Though, you should not fret since your SSDI benefits are eligible to be reinstated the month following your release.

When it comes to SSI benefits, they will be suspended if you are incarcerated for one full calendar month. Similar to SSDI benefits, you are eligible to seek reinstatement of your SSI benefits without a new disability application if you are released from custody before your benefits were suspended for 12 months. The key is to report when you enter or leave an institution directly to the Social Security Administration.

The Takeaway

In summation, an individual’s eligibility to receive disability benefits with a prior felony conviction will depend primarily on the following factors:

  • Whether you are serving a prison sentence;
  • Whether you are evading a criminal conviction;
  • Whether you are currently under parole, or
  • Your disability arose as a proximate result of committing a criminal act.

As  you can see, a prior felony conviction should not impact your ability of apply for disability social security benefits, but that general rule has notable exceptions and loopholes you need to be aware of. Nevertheless, you should not give up hope and you could still qualify for disability benefits, even with a criminal background.

Have Questions? Fill Out an Evaluation Form to Be Connected to an Experienced Attorney

If you have questions about applying for disability benefits with a criminal background, is here to help. We strive to help answer important questions related to the SSDI and SSI application process, including the chances of successfully receiving benefits and what to do if your initial application is denied. We also partner with experienced disability attorneys in different parts of the country. These attorneys are ready to provide legal guidance and assess your viability for receiving disability benefits. They can also assist you with the application process. To learn more, fill out a free evaluation form on this page.

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