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Stimulus Checks

Second stimulus check: can inmates get it?

The IRS says inmates aren’t entitled to Covid-19 relief payments, but judges disagree and are campaigning to change the rules for the second round.

Second stimulus check: can inmates get it?

In an ongoing battle to appeal the decision of the IRS to exclude prisoners and inmates from essential coronavirus economic support, there's some hope that this time round, things could be different.

CARES Act: inmates excluded from stimulus

On May 6, 2020 the IRS updated responses to the “Frequently Asked Questions” on its website in which it stated that incarcerated individuals do not qualify for stimulus checks.

Since the IRS sent the first round of payments in mid-April there had been reports of deceased people receiving payments and anger began to mount at the exclusion of all inmates from the relief payments, leaving their families who may be sending  support payments, suffering. The coronavirus pandemic to date has left millions of Americans unemployed and destitute.

In the spring, it was reported that some inmates had received the checks in error, following the first coronavirus relief payments approved via the CARES Act in March. The IRS was even asking state officials to help claim the payments back, despite public outcry.

IRS: Prisoner’s don’t qualify for Covid payments

According to the IRS, prisoners don’t qualify for stimulus payments and if for any reason they had received a $1,200 check under the CARES Act they were obliged to return it immediately.

The only exception that entitled inmates to keep the stimulus payment was if it was made payable to joint filers and only one spouse was in prison.

Newsweek reported that the IRS justified its actions by citing the Social Security Act, which prevents incarcerated people from receiving certain benefits, including old age and survivor insurance payments.

List of people who don’t get a stimulus check for breaking the law

  • Incarcerated in jail or a prison after being convicted of a crime.
  • Held in a mental health facility following a verdict or finding of guilty but insane, not guilty by reason of insanity, or incompetent to stand trial.
  • Determined to be a sexually dangerous person or sexual predator and confined to a halfway house or other similar facility.
  • Fleeing to avoid prosecution or prison time for a felony.
  • In violation of probation or parole.

Judges wage in on stimulus rights for incarcerated citizens

Then in late September, Forbes reported that US District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton issued an order which included a requirement to the IRS and Treasury Department to stop withholding stimulus checks to prisoners and inmates solely on the basis of their incarceration status.

“There is nothing in the CARES Act that gives the IRS authority to decide that incarcerated people are ineligible to receive stimulus checks,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), talking to Forbes “Inmates - who are disproportionately people of colour and from low income communities - already suffer from a lack of resources and heightened exposure to Covid-19 due to the failed response to the virus by the prison system. Incarcerated people and their families need more help during this pandemic, not more undue punishment,” the Senator said.

It’s estimated that the judge’s orders could bring relief to over 80,000 incarcerated individuals who collectively should receive upwards of $100 million in stimulus checks. The population eligible for payment may be even higher as the lawsuit alleged that over 1.4 million individuals have been affected by the IRS’ denial of payment to prisoners and inmates.


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