Do Inmates Get Stimulus Checks?

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One of the aims of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was to dole out economic impact payments (EIP). 

The United States government issued these emergency funds, or stimulus checks, to aid the American citizens and the American economy during and after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Initially, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stated that incarcerated people were eligible to receive stimulus payments. Later, the agency recanted its initial decision and instructed the inmates to return the stimulus money. 

However, in October 2020, a Northern District of California federal judge ruled that excluding inmates from stimulus checks was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

This federal court ruling required that the IRS give incarcerated individuals their stimulus money if they meet the standard eligibility requirements.

You may benefit from the following information regarding stimulus checks if you or your family member is in prison.

Does Everyone Receive a Stimulus Check?

Individuals may become eligible recipients of the stimulus check depending on their residency status, taxpayer identification number, legal dependency status, and income.

For example, United States citizens became eligible to receive the first stimulus payments after meeting the following criteria:

  • You have U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residency status. 
  • You are not a legal dependent on the tax return of another individual.
  • In 2019, you earned less than $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples who are filing taxes jointly.
  • Your spouse and children have a legitimate Social Security number. However, couples who served in the Armed Forces in 2019 are exceptions to this rule.

The eligibility standards for receiving the CARES Act economic impact payments may vary only concerning the individual’s income. 

Can Inmates Get a Stimulus Check?

After Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society filed a lawsuit to challenge the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to withhold the CARES Act stimulus payments from incarcerated individuals, a federal judge ruled that the agencies’ conduct was unlawful.

Any individual who submitted a 2018 or 2019 tax return or used the online IRS non-filer portal to lodge a claim but could not get relief money because they were still in prison can receive stimulus payments.

Who Gets the Three Stimulus Checks?

The US government has ordered three sets of economic impact payments for pandemic relief. However, there are specific qualifications that citizens must possess to become eligible recipients of the stimulus checks. 

For all three rounds of stimulus payments, individuals must:

  • Be a US citizen or hold legal permanent residency status
  • Not be dependent on the tax returns of others, including their loved ones
  • Have a valid Social Security number

However, U.S. citizens must satisfy additional requirements for each set of stimulus payments.

First Round of Stimulus Checks

The IRS issued 162 million payments worth $271 billion in 2020. Moreover, the budget office in Congress has projected that the first wave of payments may cost $292 billion in total.

Specific individuals must have income levels that are equal to or greater than the following figures:

  • Single taxpayers: $99,000
  • Taxpayers who are the head of their households: $136,500
  • Married couples who filed their taxes jointly: $198,000

Second Round of Stimulus Checks

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 ordered the second wave of stimulus funds on December 27, 2020.

The maximum income level for each group of eligible recipients was:

  • Single taxpayers: $87,000
  • Taxpayers who are the head of their households: $124,500
  • Married couples who filed their taxes jointly: $174,000

Third Round of Stimulus Checks

As part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, the U.S. government introduced the third stimulus check on March 11, 2021.

Individuals belonging to different categories must have an income level that does not exceed the following figures:

  • Single taxpayers: $80,000
  • Taxpayers who are the head of their households: $120,000
  • Married couples who filed their taxes jointly: $160,000

How Can Incarcerated Individuals Get Their Stimulus Checks?

Most taxpayers receive their stimulus funds through a direct deposit to their bank accounts. 

However, inmates can only get their stimulus payments by filing a federal tax return (tax returns from last year). Moreover, these individuals can claim their checks as recovery rebate credit.

Typically, incarcerated individuals must fill out a 1040 IRS form and mail the document to the IRS to obtain their stimulus money.

Furthermore, inmates can claim their checks by mail or electronically:

  • Via mail: The CARES Act Prison Case includes IRS instructions on how incarcerated people can submit a 2020 tax return, a blank IRS 2020 tax form to print and fill out, and a completed IRS sample 2020 tax form.

    Moreover, concerned individuals must file a 2020 tax return to claim the first and second payments and a 2021 tax return to get the third one.
    • For the 2020 tax return: You must write the amount the IRS owes you for the first and second stimulus checks on Line 30 (recovery rebate credit).
    • For the 2021 tax return: You should state the amount the IRS owes you for the third stimulus check on Line 30 (recovery rebate credit).
  • Electronically: You can claim the recovery rebate credit by filing your taxes electronically using free tax software. 

Interested individuals may visit the webpage of the Cares Act Prison Case to get additional information concerning stimulus checks for incarcerated people. 

You may also explore the website for government resources regarding economic impact payments. 

Where to Send the IRS Form

Individuals may send their IRS forms to different addresses depending on their place of residence. 

For example, citizens living in Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York may send their forms to:

  • Department of the Treasury
    Internal Revenue Service
    Kansas City, MO 64999-0002

How to Know Your Stimulus Check Status

If an individual uses the IRS Get My Payment mechanism, they may receive the following notifications:

  • Payment Status: This message may mean that the payment is in between processes. Typically, if this is the case, the system may show you your payment date and whether you will receive it via direct deposit or mail.

    Moreover, “payment status” may also mean you are eligible to receive the EIP, but the system is not yet processing your payment.
  • Payment Status Not Available: This notification may indicate that the system is not processing your payment or that you are ineligible to receive your checks.
  • Need More Information: This message may refer to the application returning to the IRS because the post office could not deliver your forms. If this message appears, you will get the option to enter your account information and receive your payment via direct deposit. 

Otherwise, the IRS may not be able to give you your payment until you amend your address.

You can access your data by registering at Moreover, you may need the following information to create an account:

  1. Basic information: This data may include your complete name, birth date, email, individual tax identification number (ITIN), or Social Security number (SSN), tax filing status, and present address.
  2. A number from your financial accounts: This information may include the last eight digits of your banking card. 

Alternately, this requirement may refer to an account number for one of the following categories of loans: mortgage loans, student loans, home equity loans, or vehicle loans.

What to Do if You Have Not Yet Received Your Economic Impact Payment

Individuals who were initially not eligible for an economic impact payment – the first or second stimulus checks – can still claim it as a recovery rebate credit when filing their 2020 taxes.

If you received the first or second economic impact payment or have already filed your 2020 Form 1040, you may not need to do anything for the third check. 


  1. Can another person request a stimulus payment on behalf of an incarcerated individual?

The attorneys at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein propose that lawyers can petition on behalf of individuals in prison using Form 2848, Power of Attorney, and Declaration of Representative. These law firms are some of the organizations that fought (through lawsuits) for the rights of inmates to claim stimulus checks. 

  1. Do you have to send a check back if the IRS asks?

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the IRS cited no authority for requiring incarcerated individuals to return their stimulus checks because they are ineligible recipients. 

Moreover, a 2020 federal judge’s ruling indicated that this IRS requirement is unacceptable.

  1. What if a spouse who is not in jail got a stimulus check?

The preceding eligibility criteria for stimulus checks apply to any individual in the United States, whether or not they are in jail. 

  1. What happens if you receive your stimulus check as a debit card instead of a check?

In a letter to prison officials, the IRS stated that you must return your debit card to the IRS fiscal if you cannot process it at your facility. You may send these debit cards back to the IRS fiscal agent at:

  • Fiserv
    Attn: RAPID
    1007 North 97th Circle
    Omaha, NE 68122
  1. Will your stimulus checks be reduced if you have overdue prison debts or other unpaid debts?

As an aspect of your recovery rebate tax credit, your stimulus payments may reduce if you have a past-due child support obligation, credits, or debts. 

This situation implies that getting your stimulus checks as part of your tax refund rather than as separate checks may reduce their value.



1. CARES Act Payment Instructions for People Inside
2. CARES Act Relief for Incarcerated Americans
3. CARES Act Fact Sheet
4. What To Know About All Three Rounds of Coronavirus Stimulus Checks
5. How can I get my stimulus checks if I am incarcerated?
6. Economic Impact Payment FAQ
7. Since you asked: Should incarcerated people be receiving stimulus payments?

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