We’ve put together this short guide to help you learn about financial assistance for released prisoners. Whether you need assistance for yourself or for a loved one prior to their release, the information below will help you understand your options.
Financial Assistance For Released Prisoners
First the bad news. The government doesn’t run any financial assistance programs for released prisoners.
When you leave prison, you face starting a new life without any resources. This is a tough position to be in unless you’ve got family or friends to help you get back on your feet.
When you leave prison, you’ll get a small amount of gate money on a prepaid debit card, and that’s where direct government help for released prisoners ends.
It’s not all bad news though.
While there aren’t any financial resources exclusively for released prisoners, you might be eligible for Social Security, Disability, SNAP Benefits (food stamps), Welfare, and Housing Assistance.
Other help is available through reentry programs and charitable organizations.
How Much Gate Money Do Released Prisoners Get?
When you leave prison, you might get some gate money. Gate money is a small amount of financial assistance meant to give you enough to pay for a few meals and phone calls on your way home.
The amount you’ll get depends on the state you’re in. Some states don’t provide any gate money at all.
Gate money is as little as $10 (Alabama) and goes up to $200 (California). Released prisoners usually get a bus ticket and a basic set of clothing as well.
You may be given all of the gate money upon release, if not, you’ll need to check in with your parole officer before you can access the full amount.
If you’ve got any money saved up in your inmate account, you’ll be paid your balance upon release.
Can Release Prisoners Get Social Security?
If you meet the eligibility criteria for Social Security, you will receive retirement benefits when you’re released. Your entitlement won’t be affected by your status as a former inmate. You can even apply from prison once you know your release date.
Who is eligible for Social Security? If you’re 62 or older and you’ve worked and paid Social Security taxes for 10 years or more, you’re eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.
If you haven’t worked long enough to establish your own Social Security entitlement by the time you’re 62, you could still be eligible based on the work record of your spouse or former spouse.
Check your eligibility for Social Security at https://www.ssa.gov/prepare/check-eligibility-for-benefits
Are Released Prisoners Eligible For Disability?
Yes. If you meet the disability criteria, you can apply for disability benefits. The disability program you’re eligible for depends on your employment and contribution history.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI is based on need and is payable to disabled, blind, and elderly individuals on a low income.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
SSDI is based on work and earnings history. Benefits are payable to blind and disabled individuals.
Visit the Social Security website to learn more and make an online application: https://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/?
Do Former Inmates Get Food Stamps?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food stamps for released prisoners on low incomes.
If you’re unemployed and have no children in the home, you’re only allowed to receive SNAP benefits for 3 months out of every 3 years. Those with a disability or low income aren’t subject to the 3-month limit.
Extra help from the TANF program is available for low-income and very low-income households. TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
To qualify for support, you must be pregnant or responsible for a child under 18 (19 in some states) and meet income and asset limits.
To apply for SNAP or TANF contact your local SNAP office. Visit the USDA website to find contact details for your nearest SNAP office: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory.
Are Released Prisoners Eligible For Welfare?
Receiving a welfare check each month will ease your transition back to normal life. You’ll be eligible to apply for welfare if you meet your state’s eligibility criteria. Most states only pay welfare to households with dependent children.
For more information about welfare benefits visit: https://www.benefits.gov/
Enrolling in Medicaid (if eligible) is essential for access to healthcare once you’ve been released from prison. Some states will enroll prisoners in Medicaid prior to their release.
The eligibility criteria for Medicaid are set by each state and are based on factors including income, household size, disability, age, and family status.
In states with Expanded Medicare coverage, you’ll qualify based on low income alone, as long as your income is below 133% of the federal poverty level.
Check your state’s eligibility criteria at: https://www.healthcare.gov/lower-costs/
Housing Assistance For Released Prisoners
What help will you get with housing upon your release? If you don’t have family or friends to stay with, you’ll need to look for reentry housing, transitional housing, or a place at a homeless shelter.
You should apply for reentry and transitional housing before your release, but if you’ve been unsuccessful, ask your parole officer to help you find housing.
For emergency housing, call the United Way helpline on 211 to find out where your nearest shelter is. The free helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day. Shelters don’t limit their help to a bed for a few weeks, they’ll help with food and clothing, and connect you with other essential reentry resources in the area.
Obviously, your goal is to move into your own home as soon as possible, and you might be able to get financial help through government-funded housing programs for low-income households.
If you meet the income limits, you should apply for the Public Housing Program or the Housing Choice Voucher Program in your area as soon as possible.
Waiting lists for these programs are long. In some areas, the waiting lists only open for a few days each year, so you need to make sure you keep track of waiting list notifications.
To find out if you’re eligible for housing assistance, contact your local Public Housing Authority (PHA). Start by visiting the directory of public housing agencies at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/public_indian_housing/pha/contacts/.
Pick your state from the dropdown list, or click your state on the map to get the contact details for your nearest PHA.
Other Resources For Released Prisoners
Upon release from prison, you’ve got an enormous adjustment to make and many pressing needs to attend to. You might feel lost and alone, and if you’ve been in prison for a long time, the outside world might seem utterly bewildering.
But you aren’t alone. There are numerous charity and nonprofit organizations that help returning citizens get back on their feet. You can get help with:
- Housing and housing applications
- Access to benefits
- Identification documents
- Basic essentials
- Education and skills training
- Mental health recovery programs
- Drug addiction programs
- Legal issues
- Support groups
Former inmates who make use of these support services have much better reentry outcomes.
Your parole officer will direct you to local reentry organizations. Otherwise, search online for prison reentry resources and charities in your area, contact local churches, call United Way on 211, or contact your local Goodwill branch.
Because direct financial help for newly released prisoners is limited to a small amount of gate money, you’ll need to sign up for the general assistance programs we’ve mentioned.
Unless you need to be in a recovery program, getting a job as soon as possible should be a high priority for you. If you’re unable to work due to age or disability, sign up for Social Security before you leave prison to avoid delays with your first payment.
Remember, there’s no need to go through reentry alone. And you’ll get back on your feet faster if you get help.
Charles Greg is the Co-Founder, Author, & Head Developer behind RentingtoFelons.org
With a lifelong passion for humanity.