Update: Court says IRS can’t deny economic stimulus payments to incarcerated people
by Stephen Raher, October 5, 2020
As we noted back in May, when most Americans were getting one-time $1200 stimulus payments from the IRS, the government was quietly trying to deny making payments to incarcerated people, even though there is no such restriction in the law that created this program. Plenty of people noticed the government’s lack of a solid basis for denying the payments, and at least two lawsuits over the issue are pending in federal courts.
On September 24, 2020, a judge in California issued a ruling requiring the IRS to process stimulus payments for incarcerated people. This isn’t quite the end of the story. The judge’s ruling could be stayed or reversed on appeal, or Congress could amend the law to prohibit payments to incarcerated people.1 But for the time being, IRS is accepting mailed applications from incarcerated people through November 4 (extended recently from October 30 because of a court ruling) and online applications through November 21.
While the Prison Policy Initiative cannot provide legal advice, a basic explainer and instructions are available from the Uptown People’s Law Center. People may also want to contact the law firm that brought the California litigation. We also know that organizations including Abolition Apostles and Prison Abolition Prisoner Support are mailing application packets to incarcerated people.
Frequently asked questions:
Q: How do I know if I or my loved one in prison qualifies for the stimulus check?
A: We can’t give individualized tax advice, but you might find our discussion and the links to how the CARES Act defines eligible individuals helpful. See the “Does incarceration make people ineligible for stimulus payments?” section in our original stimulus checks article (written before the Court ruled).
Q: How do I apply for my stimulus check (or apply on behalf of a loved one in prison)?
A: Please see this explainer from the Uptown People’s Law Center with instructions on how to apply.
Q: I’m confused about the application procedure (for instance, which address to put down for my loved one).
A: We’re not able to answer specific questions about the process of applying, but we keep a list of organizations in several states offering free legal assistance to incarcerated people. One of those organizations might be able to help you.
The Senate proposal for additional economic stimulus (S. 4318) does contain language that would prohibit stimulus payments to people who are incarcerated for every day during calendar year 2020. The newly-announced House proposal does not contain such a restriction. Neither bill has yet to receive a floor vote. ↩