Stimulus Checks

Second stimulus check: can prisoners get it?

The IRS said inmates aren’t entitled to Covid-19 relief payments, but a federal judge disagrees and has ruled that they will be eligible for the second round.

Second stimulus check: can inmates get it?
ERIN SCOTT REUTERS

In what has been an ongoing battle to appeal the decision of the IRS to exclude prisoners and inmates from essential coronavirus economic support, the hope from prisoners' families was that this time round, things could be different. And a federal judge has handed them a clear victory although time is running out to apply, no later than 15 October 2020 for non-tax filers.

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: prisoners don’t qualify for covid-19 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

Stimulus checks: judge rules in favour of prisoners

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.

The ruling states: “Within 30 days, defendants shall reconsider advance refund payments to those who are entitled to such payment based on information available in the IRS’s records (i.e., 2018 or 2019 tax returns), but from whom benefits have thus far been withheld, intercepted, or returned on the sole basis of their incarcerated status. Within 30 days, defendants shall reconsider any claim filed through the “non-filer” online portal or otherwise that was previously denied solely on the basis of the claimant’s incarcerated status...Within 45 days, defendants shall file a declaration confirming these steps have been implemented, including data regarding the number and amount of benefits that have been disbursed."

“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.

Any prisoner or their family can find out more information on how to receive their stimulus check by accessing the website of the law firm Lief Cabraser.