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.



  1. 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.  ↩

Stephen Raher is a volunteer attorney at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

10 responses:

  1. Carol Hanson says:

    My boyfriend said that the facility he is in sent a memo stating that anyone applying for stimulus and/or small business loans would be hit with federal charges

    1. This is concerning. If this is something you’d be willing to share more detail with us about, please send us a message through our contact page (https://www.prisonpolicy.org/contact.html) and we’ll keep your information confidential.

  2. I am trying to figure out if my Daughter is available for any of the Stimulus package for incarcerated women

    1. Hi Christine, which stimulus package for incarcerated women are you referring to? Can you provide a link? Or do you just mean the $1,200 stimulus checks?

  3. My Son is incarcerated in Rogers State Prison, in Reidsville, Ga. Does he qualify for the, Stimulus Check. I don’t have to File for income Tax. And it’s Hard on me, to Send him money. Because I,m on Low Fixed income. Please Text me back and Let me know. My Son name is, Charles Olan Lanier, Thank you, Sincerely Darlene Prekop

    1. It’s not possible for us to know whether individual people in prison are eligible, but the “Does incarceration make people ineligible for stimulus payments?” section in this article should give you an idea of whether your son qualifies: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/05/18/checks/

  4. LAURA HART says:

    So since now they are saying prisoners shoiuld get the stimulus checks. Would i just file my boyfriends on-line using the prisions address? Do you have the information on the form you use? If not im sure i can find it.

    Thank you
    Laura Hart

    1. Hi Laura, we’re not sure. We can’t advise on questions that specific, unfortunately, but see the article for some links to organizations that might be able to help you.

  5. Israel ingle says:

    How do I apply for the stimulus payment?

    1. Hi Israel, please see this resource from the Uptown People’s Law Center (and see the last paragraph of the article for other helpful links): https://www.uplcchicago.org/stimulus/

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