Do Prisoners Get Stimulus Checks?

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

The United States Congress authorized the distribution of emergency funds, or stimulus checks, to help American citizens and the economy cope with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) originally announced that incarcerated people were eligible for stimulus payments. However, the agency eventually retracted its initial decision and told inmates to return the stimulus money. 

After prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit in October 2020, a Northern District of California federal judge ruled that excluding inmates from the stimulus bill was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

This federal court ruling ordered the IRS to give incarcerated individuals their stimulus money if they satisfy the eligibility requirements.

LookUpInmate.org is an all-in-one website for information regarding inmates across the country. You can use the site’s free inmate search tool to help your loved ones to know the specific requirements and process for obtaining stimulus payments.

Read on to learn more about stimulus checks and how the U.S. criminal justice system works if you or a family member is in prison.

Are Incarcerated Individuals Eligible for Stimulus Checks?

While it was initially not the case, incarcerated individuals are now eligible for stimulus checks. 

Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society appealed to the court. They challenged the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department’s instruction to withhold the CARES Act stimulus money from incarcerated individuals. Following their complaint, a federal judge ruled that the initial decision of the agencies was unlawful.

Can Prison Inmates Claim Their Stimulus Checks?

Individuals who submitted a 2018 or 2019 tax return or used the IRS website’s non-filer portal to lodge a claim but could not obtain relief assistance because they were in federal or state prison can receive stimulus payments.

How Do Individuals Behind Bars Request a Stimulus Check?

Most taxpayers obtain their stimulus money through direct deposits to their bank accounts. 

Still, only inmates who filed a federal tax return (tax returns from last year) can receive their stimulus money. These prisoners can also use their checks as recovery rebate credits.

How to Get Stimulus Checks if You Are in Incarceration

Generally, inmates must complete an IRS Form 1040 and mail it to the IRS to receive their stimulus funds.

Moreover, prisoners can electronically or by mail claim their checks:

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

Additionally, individuals affected must file a tax return in 2020 to collect the first and second payments and a tax return in 2021 to receive the third payment. 

  • For the 2020 tax return: On Line 30, you must indicate how much money you owe the IRS for the first and second stimulus cheques (recovery rebate credit).
  • For the 2021 tax return: Line 30 (recovery rebate credit) is where you should write the amount that the IRS owes you for the third stimulus check.
  • Electronically: You can file taxes electronically using free tax software to obtain the recovery rebate credit. 

Interested parties should also visit the Cares Act Prison Case website to understand more about the stimulus checks sent to prisoners. 

For more information on government resources for economic impact payments, visit IRS.gov.

Where to Send the IRS Form

Individuals may send their IRS forms to various addresses depending on where they live. 

For instance, citizens living in Vermont, Delaware, New Hampshire, and New York can send their files to:

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

How Do You Receive Your Stimulus Checks As the Recovery Rebate Credit on Your Tax Return?

If you owe past-due child support, credits, or debts, your stimulus money will decrease as part of your recovery rebate tax credit.

This condition suggests that receiving your stimulus payments as part of your tax refund rather than a direct check may be reduced but is also vulnerable to garnishment. 

Do You Have to Send a Check Back if the IRS Asks?

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit advocacy group, the IRS has no legal basis for requiring inmates to return their stimulus checks because they are ineligible recipients. 

Furthermore, a 2020 federal judge’s court ruling showed that the IRS requirement was unacceptable.

How to Know Where Your Stimulus Check Is Now 

Individuals using the IRS Get My Payment feature could get the following notifications:

  • Payment Status: This notice indicates that the payment is pending. Usually, if this is the case, the system will display your payment date, including whether you will get your check by mail or direct deposit.

Additionally, “payment status” can imply that even though you are qualified for the EIP, the system is still processing your payment.

  • Payment Status Not Available: This notification means that the system is not processing your stimulus check, or you are not eligible for the stimulus program.
  • Need More Information: You will see this notification after your application file returns to the IRS and if the post office cannot deliver your forms. You can opt to enter your account information and select direct deposit as your payment method if this message appears.

If you do not change your address, the IRS might be unable to send you your payment.

If you register an account at IRS.gov/account, you can access your data. You also need the following details to establish an account:

  1. Basic information: This information includes your full name, birth date, email address, Social Security number, individual tax identification number, and current address.
  2. A number from your financial accounts: This data includes your financial card’s last eight digits. Alternatively, this criterion can also apply to a loan account number for a mortgage, home equity, student, or auto loan.

Who Gets the Three Stimulus Checks?

The U.S. has mandated three sets of economic impact payments for pandemic relief. 

However, there are particular requirements that citizens must meet to be eligible for the stimulus checks. For each of the three stimulus payment rounds, applicants must:

  • Possess U.S. citizenship or a valid permanent resident visa.
  • Not rely on others’ tax returns, including their loved ones.
  • Have an active Social Security number. 

On the other hand, American citizens must meet additional criteria for each tranche of stimulus checks.

First Round of Stimulus Checks

In 2020, the IRS distributed 162 million payments totaling $271 billion. Additionally, the budget office of Congress estimated that the first round of payments might reach $292 billion.

A specific individual’s income level must be near or equal to the following amounts:

  • Single taxpayers: $99,000
  • Taxpayers who are household heads: $136,500
  • Married couples who filed their taxes jointly: $198,000

Second Round of Stimulus Checks

The second round of stimulus money followed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 on December 27, 2020.

The following list indicates the maximum income limit for each category of qualified recipients:

  • Single taxpayers: $87,000
  • Taxpayers who are household heads: $124,500
  • Married couples who filed their taxes jointly: $174,000

Third Round of Stimulus Checks

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

 Eligible recipients from distinct categories must not exceed the income thresholds indicated below:

  • Single taxpayers: $80,000
  • Taxpayers who are household heads: $120,000
  • Married couples who filed their taxes jointly: $160,000

What to Do if You Are Still Waiting for Your Economic Impact Payment

Individuals not initially qualified for the economic impact payment – first or second stimulus payments – can still obtain them as a recovery rebate credit when they file their 2020 taxes.

You might not need to take further actions for the third check if you have already received the first and second EIPs or if you have submitted your 2020 Form 1040. 

FAQs

  1. Can another person request a stimulus payment for the incarcerated individual?

The lawyers at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein suggest using Form 2848, Power of Attorney, and Declaration of Representative to petition on behalf of incarcerated individuals.

The law firms above are some groups that advocated for inmates’ right to receive stimulus payments.

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

The standard eligibility requirements for stimulus payments apply to any individual in the United States, whether or not they are in jail. 

  1. Do inmates in prisons and jails get COVID-19 stimulus checks?

Yes. Inmates in jails and prisons are eligible for COVID-19 stimulus checks.

  1. Are you eligible for the stimulus checks? Can inmates get a stimulus check?

Typically, you are eligible to receive the first stimulus check in the United States if you meet the minimum requirements below:

  • You must have a legal and permanent residence or the United States citizenship.
  • You are not a legal dependent on another individual’s tax return.
  • You earned less than $75,000 as a separate individual in 2019 and $150,000 as a couple filing jointly.
  • Your spouse and kids each have valid Social Security numbers. However, couples who served together in the military in 2019 are an exception to this regulation.

The only factor changing the requirements for obtaining CARES Act economic impact payments is the applicant’s income.

Depending on their domicile status, taxpayer identification number, legal dependency status, and income, individuals—including inmates—may qualify to receive the stimulus check.

  1. Will your stimulus checks be reduced if you have overdue prison debts or other unpaid debts?

Suppose you owe past-due child support, credits, or debts. In that case, your stimulus payments may be reduced as part of your recovery rebate tax credit.

The condition suggests that receiving your stimulus payments as part of your tax refund rather than separately may reduce the check’s amount.

  1. What happens if the stimulus check was sent as a debit card instead of a check?

According to the letter the IRS sent to prison officials, if you cannot process your debit card at your facility, you must return your card to the IRS fiscal. You can send back your debit card to the IRS fiscal agent at:

  • Fiserv
    Attn: RAPID
    1007 North 97th Circle
    Omaha, NE 68122
  1. What happens if you miss the deadline?

Assuming the stimulus bill is still in place, inmates should file a make-up payment application on an IRS-assigned date. 

  1. What deductions can the department of corrections take from the stimulus money?

The department of corrections, or DOC, may reduce deposited checks arriving at facilities. This fund deduction must follow a standard process and be subject to statutory deductions. 

Moreover, the DOC can classify the stimulus payments as “other funds” and that they will be subject to deductions for crime victim compensation, savings, child support, and the cost of jail, based on their respective deduction matrix.

  1. What happens if you apply and find out that someone else has already filed for you? How can I find this out?

IdentityTheft.gov can help you address such issues. Additionally, this site can assist you in completing the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039). 

To find out if other people are attempting to claim your payments, check the status of your stimulus check or have someone check it online for you at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment. 

You can also visit LookUpInmate.org to help you access public records on legitimate websites more conveniently. We can assist you in finding information like press releases, solicitations, criminal investigations, and disclaimers.  

References

1. CARES Act Payment Instructions for People Inside
https://www.rootandrebound.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2020.10.23-CARES-ACT-PAYMENT-INSTRUCTIONS-FOR-PEOPLE-INSIDE.pdf
2. CARES Act Relief for Incarcerated Americans
https://www.lieffcabraser.com/civil-rights/cares-act-relief/
3. CARES Act Fact Sheet
https://www.rootandrebound.org/resources/cares-act-resources/
4. Since you asked: Should incarcerated people be receiving stimulus payments?
https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/05/18/checks/
5. How can I get my stimulus checks if I am incarcerated?
https://www.taxoutreach.org/blog/how-can-i-get-my-stimulus-check-if-i-am-incarcerated/
6. What To Know About All Three Rounds of Coronavirus Stimulus Checks
https://www.pgpf.org/blog/2021/03/what-to-know-about-all-three-rounds-of-coronavirus-stimulus-checks
7. Economic Impact Payment FAQ
https://doc.mo.gov/media/pdf/economic-impact-payment-faq

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