Can You Claim Benefits in Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: February 3, 2021

When advocating for criminal justice and prison reform, I often hear people claim that prison inmates are living the good life. For some reason, there are people who believe that prison inmates have got it good because they get three meals a day and a place to sleep at night. 

I also hear people talk about how inmates get to workout at the gym all of the time, and how they must have it better than the poor and working class people in the free world. I’ve even heard claims that prison inmates can get benefits while they are incarcerated. But is this really true? Can you claim benefits in prison?

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Prison inmates can’t claim social security or unemployment benefits
  • What happens to Medicare and Medicaid benefits when you go to prison?
  • Can prison inmates get stimulus checks?
  • Prison inmates and veterans benefits

Prison inmates can’t claim social security or unemployment benefits

According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments generally aren’t payable for the months that you’re incarcerated for committing a crime. 

If you receive Social Security at the time of your conviction, your benefits will be suspended if you’re in jail or prison for more than 30 continuous days. You can get your benefits reinstated starting with the month following the month of your release. However, if you are incarcerated for longer than 12 months, your eligibility for SSI benefits will be terminated and you will have to file a new application after your release.

The Social Security office can’t start your benefits until your release. They must have your official release documents from the jail or prison where you were confined.

I should note that even though inmates can’t receive monthly Social Security benefits while incarcerated, benefits to spouses or children will continue as long as they remain eligible. 

An individual released from incarceration may be eligible for Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability benefits if they have worked or paid into Social Security enough years. They could also be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits if they are 65 or older, are blind, or have a disability and have little or no income and resources. 

Once an inmate knows their release date, a prison case worker can help start the application process for Social Security or SSI benefits. If the institution has a prerelease agreement with the local Social Security office, they will notify them if the inmate is likely to meet the requirements for SSI or disability benefits. An inmate can submit their application months before their anticipated release so the SS office can begin processing and benefits can start as soon as possible.

When it comes to unemployment benefits, prison inmates are not allowed to receive those either while incarcerated. However, being a felon does not disqualify anyone from receiving unemployment benefits after their release from prison – as long as they meet all other requirements.

What happens to Medicare and Medicaid benefits when you go to prison?

Medicare doesn’t usually pay for your hospital or medical bills if you’re incarcerated. If you are on Medicare when you go to prison, your Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) coverage will continue. However, to keep up your Part B (Medical Insurance) coverage, you have to pay your monthly premiums.

If your coverage ends because you are in jail or prison, and you didn’t pay your premiums. You will be able to enroll during the general enrollment period upon your release. You will be responsible for any unpaid past-due premiums and you may have to pay a Part B late enrollment penalty.

If your Medicaid eligibility terminated while you were in prison, you will have to contact your local social services office to apply for Medicaid coverage when you are released.

Can prison inmates get stimulus checks?

The November 2020 deadlines have come and gone, so there is no longer a place on the IRS website for non-filers to enter their payment info. For prison inmates who did file a 2019 tax return, the deadlines have still passed, but there is hope. Yes, prison inmates can get stimulus checks, but they will have to do it in the form of a tax refund.

For an inmate to get the $600 and $1,200 payments that have already been sent out, you will have to file a 2020 Tax Return for your inmate. You can report zero earnings (if they didn’t earn any money last year) and file for the “recovery rebate” tax credit. 

The way the law is written, both the first $1,200 payment and the second $600 payment were simply advance payments of this credit. According to, the eligibility rules for the recovery rebate credit are almost identical to the rules for receiving the first and second stimulus checks. 

The only difference is that eligibility for the stimulus checks was based on information from 2018 and 2019 tax returns. The eligibility for the recovery rebate credit is based on information from the 2020 tax return.

Generally, an inmate is eligible to claim the recovery rebate credit if, in 2020, they:

  • Were a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident alien,
  • Can’t be claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return
  • Have a Social Security number valid for employment that’s issued before the due date of your 2020 tax return (including extensions)

If an inmate is the head of a household, pays child support, or is married filing jointly, please refer to the IRS website for more information. You can also try out this MSN article that will go into more detail about inmates with spouses and dependents. 

Prison inmates and veterans benefits

Some incarcerated veterans may be eligible for VA benefits, including Disability compensation, pension, education and training, health care, home loans, insurance, Veteran readiness and employment, and burial. However, many VA benefits are affected by incarceration. 

VA disability compensation payments are reduced if a veteran is convicted of a felony and incarcerated for more than 60 days. Once a veteran is released from prison, compensation payments may be reinstated.

Payments are not reduced for recipients participating in work release programs, residing in halfway houses, or under supervision. Veterans who receive a VA pension will have payments terminated on the 61st day after imprisonment. They will resume upon release if the veteran meets the eligibility requirements.

Please visit the VA’s Veterans page for more information about the benefits available to all incarcerated Veterans. 

Are you a felon who has received benefits after your release from prison? Tell us your story in the comments below.


Benefits After Incarceration: What You Need To Know

What Prisoners Need To Know


Incarcerated Veterans
  • I filed my sister’s return and she never received the paper check that was sent to Risk Texas. She is an inmate and never received her stimulus check although IRS said it was mailed to my sister at Risk hospital.

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