Stimulus, round 2: Incarcerated people will be eligible for new round of payments

At the end of an otherwise disappointing session of Congress, the inclusion of incarcerated people in the stimulus program is a small ray of hope.

by Stephen Raher, December 30, 2020

For readers with questions

Details are still coming out about how this new round of stimulus payments will be sent to incarcerated people. As we learn more, we’ll update this article, but we can’t answer individual questions to help readers get their payments. In the meantime, we offer a few suggestions:

  • People in prison who did not receive the stimulus payment (first or second) may be able to claim the payments by filling out a 1040 tax form and mailing it to the IRS. Some prisons are making the form available upon request.
  • The IRS’s Get My Payment tool and FAQ, as well as the IRS’s detailed press release about the new round of payments, might be helpful.
  • The National Consumer Law Center has published a helpful FAQ.
  • The law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, which brought the successful California lawsuit about incarcerated people qualifying for stimulus checks, has a webpage with useful information that may be updated soon.

In the wake of the recently passed stimulus bill, many Americans are complaining about the paltry direct payments of $600. Without detracting from Congress’s failure to support the millions of people who need help, it is worth pausing to acknowledge one unexpected victory in the bill: It contains no prohibition on stimulus payments for incarcerated people.1

The previous stimulus bill, passed in March, took some people by surprise by not making incarcerated people ineligible for direct cash payments. The IRS made an ill-advised (not to mention unauthorized) attempt to exclude incarcerated people, but this policy was slapped down by the federal courts. As we wrote previously, because Congress did not exclude people in prison or jail, the IRS had no choice but to issue the payments to incarcerated people who otherwise qualified. Others who made this same argument ultimately prevailed in court and incarcerated people began to receive stimulus checks.

In July, when Congress first started to consider a subsequent round of stimulus, the Senate Finance Committee proposed legislative language that would exclude incarcerated people from receiving funds (both going forward and retroactively). The fact that no such language appears in the bill passed in December suggests that this issue was probably the subject of actual negotiation.

It’s a good thing that Congress stuck to the policy of including incarcerated people in the pool of eligible recipients. Even before the pandemic, day-to-day life in prison and jail was getting expensive, with commissary charges for basic food and hygiene items, and increasingly common pay-to-play e-book and music programs. But the COVID-19 crisis has brought communications costs (phone, video, and electronic messaging) into sharp contrast. In the many facilities that have suspended in-person visits, phone and video are now essential services (which come with a price tag). When incarcerated people lack the money needed to pay for basic health and communications items, the financial burden typically falls on their loved ones on the outside who may have to sacrifice basic needs to support family members in prison.

The second round of stimulus payments will help people pay for basic necessities in prison or jail, and perhaps begin saving to cover expenses upon release from custody. At the end of an otherwise disappointing session of Congress, the inclusion of incarcerated people in the stimulus program is a small ray of hope.



  1. Another prison-related victory, the restoration of Pell grants for people in prison, is also worth noting, although that’s a topic for a different blog post.


Stephen Raher was General Counsel at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

34 responses:

  1. Maxine says:

    Will they be taking child support out of the incarcerated people’s stimulus like they did for the first, When it was suppose to be helping the people with their commissary?

    1. Hi Maxine- this will almost certainly depend on the state, but we don’t have any information on it yet.

      If you know of incarcerated people having child support withdrawn from their first stimulus checks, would you write to us at and let us know in which state it was happening? We’d appreciate the help.

  2. Tammy Arrington says:

    How can I help my wrongfully convicted son get his stimulus check?

    1. Hi Tammy, we don’t have any details yet about what the procedure looks like this time. Last time, people had to apply to receive the stimulus checks, but it might be different this time around. We’ll update this post when we know more.

  3. Leonna says:


  4. Sarah livelt says:

    Does the money have to go on their books?

    1. Hi Sarah- this is one of the many questions on which the IRS still hasn’t provided concrete information. We’ll update you (and update the article) when we know more.

  5. María De la Torre says:

    Hi, Good Morning, I need some help, I submitted online for the Stimulus check back in Oct-2020 for mine LO. Haven’t received nothing yet. I check online but either. Also how can I do the other one?

    1. Hi Maria- unfortunately, we can’t help with this. We can’t give tax advice, and we also don’t know how incarcerated people (or people filing on their behalf) can get the first stimulus payment if they never received it. We’ll update our article if we learn more about this.

  6. Tina Saraceni says:

    My son lived with me for half the year in 2018 before going to jail. On my 2019 taxes I was able to claim head of household due to the few months he lived with me. Will he be eligible to apply for the 2nd stimulus do to being in jail most of 2018 and all of 2019?

    1. Hi Tina- we haven’t heard anything about who needs to apply for the second stimulus payment, as most payments will be sent automatically to people who are eligible.

  7. Timothy Spivey says:

    I would like to know if why it didnt recieve the stimulus payment for 2020 if I held a job prior to having been incarcerated for a short period of time in 2019. And am I eligible to recieve the second round aswell recieve the rearage . I keep getting the message not enough information to provide the information i am looking for;

    1. Hi Timothy- if you were eligible to receive the first stimulus payment, you should be eligible to receive the second; but I can’t answer your question about why you didn’t receive the first payment. We generally can’t give tax advice and this is out of our depth. The law firm who brought the successful suit about incarcerated people receiving stimulus checks might have the answer to your question on this page: (Link no longer works).

  8. Raven says:

    Hi my boyfriend is incarcerated and he received the first stimulus but when I try to see the status of it on the irs site it says the information is wrong and it’s not. Then I read if they were a non filer in 2019 they have to claim it on there taxes so he’s incarcerated how does that work?

    1. Hi Raven- I don’t fully understand your question, and we can’t give tax advice, so I suggest checking out the FAQ on this page: (Link no longer works)

  9. Veronia Stuart says:

    Hopefully, this is where I can ask a question? My loved one is currently incarcerated and has done what needed to be done to receive the first EIP and as of today he still has not received it. What needs to be done? And if a phone call to the IRS needs to be done, can I call for him and get the information regarding his check? Thank You!

    1. Hi Veronia – we’re not qualified to give tax advice, but the IRS will know more than we do about what steps (if any) you and your son need to take. I would reach out to them, or consult a tax lawyer. There are a lot of people, both incarcerated and not, who still haven’t received their first stimulus check and it’s possible that this is just a waiting game.

  10. Gwendoly says:

    Hello so my brother in law did file for the first stimulus and I did check the get my payment portal yet it said not enough information, he was incarcerated and released just recently but still have not received it. I was wondering if there was something I can do to help the process of see how to make sure he gets his payment.

    1. Hi Gwendoly – I don’t know. We’re not qualified to give tax advice, but the IRS will know more than we do about what steps (if any) you and your son need to take. I would reach out to them, or consult a tax lawyer. There are a lot of people, both incarcerated and not, who still haven’t received their first stimulus check and it’s possible that this is just a waiting game.

  11. Sandy Alexander says:

    My question is for my son. He is in Leavenworth. They received paperwork to fill out back in October. The paper work was filled out their and sent off all at one time. Most people have gotten their’s but not my son. He has talked to his x and the money did not go to child support. He is wondering how to track it. Do I or can I call someone or is there something on line that could answer my questions? Thank you

    1. Hi Sandy – Unfortunately, we just don’t know and can’t advise on individual cases. I would try to get hold of someone at the IRS, or consult a tax lawyer. There are a lot of people, both incarcerated and not, who still haven’t received their first stimulus check.

  12. Sandra Leach says:

    My grandson is in prison. He received the first stimulus amount in a check that was put on his books. Will he receive the $600 in a check as well?

    1. Hi Sandra,

      We’re not entirely sure about this yet. We’ll update our article when we know more about how the payments are being sent out.

  13. Pattijean Burleson says:

    Hey. My husband is currently incarcerated and was unable to appy for the first stimulus check in prison. Is there any way he can file for the second stimulus check? And how would I go about that? I haven’t found anything as of now. I see the form from the first stimulus check however its past the dead line for it. And the tool on the IRS site for them is not available anymore. Is there anyway he could still get the first stimulus check and the second one? And How can I do it for him?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Pattijean- it’s possible that people in prison will be able to claim the first stimulus check by filing a tax return this year, but we just don’t know yet. We’ll update our article if we learn more about this.

  14. Antonia Brown says:

    Hi my boyfriend is in jail and I set up on my direct deposit my account for him to receive the stimulus check there first one the child support did take it and now this one said that it should’ve been deposited by January 4 which I’m still waiting for his mine said unavailable but I filed with TurboTax and they make sure that I got my deposit. But I’m still waiting on his now will I still get a deposit on my account for him or will it come in the mail or what do you think will happen but it is set up direct deposit from my account

    1. Hi Antonia- I don’t fully understand your question, but a lot of people (both incarcerated and not) are still waiting on their first stimulus check. I would try to get hold of someone at the IRS. You might also want to check out the FAQ on this page: (Link no longer works)

  15. Christine Freeman says:


    My brother informed us of the first stimulus availability too late. Now I have been trying to find out where to apply for the 2nd one, but I cannot locate it, and the deadline is rapidly approaching. Can anyone tell me where to go to apply for the second if he did not receive the first?

    Thank you for your help!

    1. Hi Christine- we don’t know the answer, but I would check out this FAQ page. It suggests that there is currently no way to apply for the second stimulus payment, and that the IRS is sending them out automatically based on its existing information.

  16. Vanessa says:

    Hi there. An inmate received his stimulus check at his parent’s house while in custody. He fears his check will expire by the time he gets released from jail. Do you know if they’re allowing any extensions or if there is something one can do so that he will still be able to cash it by the time he is released in June?


    1. Hi Vanessa- I’m sorry, we can’t answer that because we just don’t know.

  17. Michael B Taylor says:

    I’m incarcerated, but at a halfway house. Today being Jan. 13, 2021, the date for completion of the IRS’s automatic disbursements to 1st time recipients is Jan. 15th. we’ve been told. My question is when will the IRS put out guidelines for filing the 2020 Tax Form 1040 for inmates? We received rather cursory guidelines for the first go round from the BOP, but now that I’m here, I have no guidance for which lines (2b, 8b and 11b for the 1st go-round) to complete, and with what information (all 0’s for the 1st go-round, then $1 somewhere; I can’t recall which line that was on), etc., for the 2nd stimulus check. Will the “Guidelines For Inmate Filers” instructions be available soon? Thanks, and God Bless.

    1. Hi Michael,

      That’s a good question, but we don’t know when the IRS is putting out guidelines for incarcerated filers. My guess is that only the IRS knows that. If we come across those guidelines, we will update the top section of this article with a link.

  18. Theresa Runge says:

    To answer Vanessas question you can send the check to your son be the prison cashes it by putting it on his books.

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