If injury or illness stops you working, social security disability insurance can help you and your loved ones cope with the financial difficulties you may face. To receive any payment, claimants must pass a rigorous application process, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies around 45 percent of claims submitted. The SSA denies claims for several reasons, but a criminal conviction could cause a problem for you or a loved one. Learn why the SSA denies claims for some criminal convictions, and find out how a prison sentence could affect your payments.
The aims of social security disability payments
Experts believe that disability will affect the lives 25 percent of people aged 20 today before they reach 67. Disability can occur for a multitude of reasons, but many people must live with conditions that make it extremely difficult to work. Many American families would face extreme financial hardship if they had to rely on the income from somebody with a disability. SSDI gives disabled people and their families a financial lifeline.
To claim benefits, you must have worked long enough and recently enough. Workers earn social security work credits up to a limit of four per year. Generally speaking, you need to have 40 credits before you can claim SSDI.
What's more SSDI payments aim to help you pay toward the cost of living because you cannot work. As such, if the SSA learns about anything that means you have other types of financial support, your SSDI payments can stop.
So what does this have to do with criminals?
Why the SSA may stop payments if you have a criminal conviction
The SSA doesn't automatically stop payments just because a court finds you guilty of a criminal charge. However, if the court sentences you to a prison sentence of thirty days or more, the SSA will normally stop making payments. The SSA makes this decision because, ironically, your prison sentence is a form of financial support. While you are in jail, you don't have to pay the normal costs of living like rent, food and heating. As such, the SSA does not need to give you money to help you cope.
Although the SSA suspends benefits after a continuous 30-day period of incarceration, you will normally start to receive your payment again one month after your release. If your prison sentence lasts longer than twelve months, you will probably need to submit a new application to reinstate your payment. You can start this process before you leave prison, especially if your jail has a prerelease agreement with the SSA.
Why the SSA may decline a new claim if you have a criminal conviction
The SSA won't automatically decline a claim if you have a felony conviction. In many cases, your criminal activity is not relevant to the application process. However, the SSA WILL decline claims if:
- The disability arose while you committed the felony
- You made the disability worse while you committed the felony
- Your disability arose while you were in prison or correctional facility
- The disability worsened while you were in prison
Certain criminal acts can also influence the claim outcome. Social Security Survivor benefits are payable when somebody's spouse or parent dies. If you kill your spouse or parent, the SSA will not pay survivor benefits to you. Similarly, you cannot claim benefits if you flee or escape from custody, or if a court order confines you to an institution due to mental illness.
Why it's worth applying for benefit
In the face of these strict rules, you may wonder why it's ever worth applying for SSDI if you think the SSA will decline the claim. In fact, an attorney will normally tell you to apply for benefits, even if you don't think the SSA will approve the claim.
Why is it sensible to do this?
Although the SSA won't pay your SSDI benefits while you are in prison, your entitlement may still start when you leave jail. At this time, the SSA will consider your eligibility based on how recently you have worked and the total time you spent working. Any period in jail could erode your eligibility, especially for longer sentences.
As such, you should still file your claim. The SSA will normally reject the claim, but the Administration will also freeze your earnings record. When you eventually leave prison, you won't lose entitlement due to the time you have spent behind bars.
A criminal conviction could mean you lose entitlement to SSDI benefits. For advice and help, contact an experienced social security disability lawyer.