Your Social Security and the Fleeing Felon Rule

Your Social Security and the Fleeing Felon Rule

Last updated: February 2010

What is the fleeing felon rule?

Under Social Security's "fleeing felon" rules, your SSI, Social Security Disability or Social Security Retirement benefits can be cut off if you are fleeing to escape prosecution for a crime, fleeing after a conviction, fleeing to avoid giving testimony, or if you violate your probation or parole.

This includes having an outstanding arrest warrant for an offense related to "fleeing" like escape, flight to avoid prosecution, flight-escape. The crime or arrest warrant may even be one that you do not remember or know about.

Note: If your benefits were stopped or denied because of an arrest warrant for something other than fleeing, you may be entitled to back benefits. Until recently any arrest warrant was enough to stop or deny you benefits. Due to a class action lawsuit, this rule was changed and certain people are entitled to back benefits. See "My benefits were cut off or denied because of an outstanding arrest warrant for a non-fleeing offense..."

How do I know if Social Security considers me a fleeing felon?

Before your benefits are cut off, Social Security will send you a letter (called a "Notice of Planned Action") saying that they plan to cut off your benefits. The notice will say that your benefits will be cut off in 10-30 days, and that you have the right to show Social Security "good cause" for why your benefits should not be cut off. You must go to the Social Security office to show that you have "good cause" in the time period stated in the letter (anywhere from 10-30 days from the date of the letter).

Note:  Sometimes Social Security can cut off your benefits without giving you any notice.  If your benefits are cut off and you did not get any notice, you should still go to Social Security and try and show "good cause," as described below. 

How do I show "good cause" to Social Security?

In the time stated in the "Notice of Planned Action" letter (generally 10-30 days), you should go to your local Social Security office and ask them to make a "good cause determination," and to start your benefits again. You should tell Social Security of any good excuse you have for not taking care of the warrant. Click on the link below to find the Social Security office nearest you.

Social Security Office Locator

It is up to Social Security to determine what is "good cause." Here are some examples of what might be good cause: 

  • It is a case of mistaken identity; you are not the person named in the warrant  
  • The crime that was the subject of the warrant was non-violent and not drug-related 
  • You were not convicted of any more crimes since the warrant was issued
  • The state that issued the warrant doesn't want to act on the warrant, or, if it is a state where you no longer live, that state does not want to bring you back for prosecution for the crime.
  • There is only one warrant out for your arrest, and that warrant is over 10 years old
  • Someone has legal guardianship over your person
  • You live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility

Note: If it is an out-of-state warrant, the best way to show good cause is to write to the out-of-state prosecutor. Tell them that you were willing to return to the state to face charges as soon as you become aware of the warrant. You should also tell them that you cannot pay for transportation back to that state, if that is true.

If the cut-off notice was the very first time you ever heard of the warrant and/or the crime, you should tell Social Security. Also, if it is an out-of-state warrant, you should tell Social Security why you moved from that state. If the reason had nothing to do with trying to escape a warrant, you can tell Social Security that the reason you moved shows that you are not "fleeing."  

Note: Social Security is most impressed by official records that show "good cause."  For example, if you are trying to show that it was a case of mistaken identity (such as someone else using your identity illegally), it is best to show an official document from the court or the agency that issued the warrant stating that the warrant was mistakenly issued in your name.

If Social Security finds that there is not good cause, your benefits will remain cut off.

What happens if Social Security finds that I have good cause?

Your benefits will be given back to you right away. Social Security should pay you for any time during which your benefits were cut off. 

What can I do if Social Security finds that there is no good cause, and continues to cut off my benefits?

There are 2 things you can do if Social Security says that you do not have "good cause." You should do both of these things: 

1) You can appeal the decision to cut off your benefits. You must file a "request for reconsideration" within 60 days of the date of your notice. You must prove to Social Security that either there is no warrant out for your arrest, or that you have "good cause," as described above.

2) You have to take care of the warrant by facing prosecution in the state where the warrant was issued. The first step should be to talk to a lawyer or public defender in the county where the warrant is issued. Ask them to help you "quash" or "dismiss" the warrant, or to represent you in the criminal case for which the warrant was issued.    

Note:  Facing prosecution for a crime can is very serious and can lead to time in prison. That is why you should talk to a lawyer or public defender in the county in which the warrant was issued to see if the warrant can be cancelled and the charges can be dropped. The older and less serious the charge is, the more likely it is that the warrant can be cancelled and the charges dropped.

Can I still get benefits while I claim good cause or request a reconsideration?

You can (and should) try, but Social Security is not likely to do so. You can write to Social Security and ask them to keep giving you your benefits while they make a good cause or reconsideration determination. But Social Security takes the position that they do not have to pay continued benefits in a "fleeing felon" situation.

What else can happen if my benefits are cut off under the fleeing felon rules?

Social Security will also charge you with an overpayment for benefits they think should not have been paid to you while there was a warrant out against you. If Social Security sends you a notice of overpayment, in addition to a notice to stop benefits under the fleeing felon rules, you can appeal the overpayment. To appeal the overpayment, file a request for reconsideration within 60 days of the date of the over payment decision. 

You can also ask Social Security to stop collection of the overpayment by filing a "Request for Waiver of Overpayment" form. Click on the link below to get a Request for Waiver of Overpayment form.

Request for Waiver of Overpayment

My benefits were cut off or denied because of an outstanding arrest warrant for a non-fleeing offense, can I get back benefits?

Yes, many people who had benefits stopped or denied because of an outstanding arrest warrant for a non-fleeing offense can get back benefits for social security, supplemental security income and special veterans benefits if the other eligibility requirements are met.

If your benefits were stopped after January 1, 2007 or an appeal decision was made after January 1, 2007, you will get back benefits from the day that they were stopped. If Social Security made you return your benefits or reduced your benefits, Social Security will pay you back. You should get these benefits back even if you have not filed a new application. You should look for social security benefits again starting between December 2009 and June 2010 and any supplemental security income sometime between April 2010 and December 2010.

If you applied for benefits and received a denial notice after January 1, 2007 or you appealed a denial and got a decision after January 1, 2007, you will get back all back benefits you would have received had your application been granted originally. If you applied for SSI under these conditions, you will have to show that you met all SSI requirements. You should look for social security benefits again starting between December 2009 and June 2010 and any supplemental security income sometime between April 2010 and December 2010.

If your benefits were stopped or denied between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2006 and you did not have a pending appeal after January 1, 2007, you will probably need to reapply for benefits. You have six months after the Social Security Administration sends you a notice to reapply. If you apply withing 6 months and qualify for benefits, you will receive benefits as though you filed on April 1, 2009. You should look for a notice from the Social Security Administration between April 2010 and December 2010. It is from that date that you have sx months to file.

To learn more you should visit the Social Security Administration or Urban Justice Center. Make sure the Social Security Administration has your current address in order to send you notice and further information. You can update your address on their website

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