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Court Says Incarcerated People Can Still Claim Stimulus Money -- Here's How

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By Ashley Ravid on October 20, 2020

A federal judge has ruled in a class-action lawsuit in favor of incarcerated people whose stimulus checks have been withheld by the government. What does this mean for people in prison, and how can they get their money?


The CARES Act, which originally gave adults making under $99,000 annually a $1,200 stimulus check, was passed in March. Though talks on a second stimulus bill have stalled, some people still have not even received their first payments. They include people in prison, who are due nearly 85,000 checks totaling approximately $100 million that were never sent.

After an objection from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS ruled that payment for prisoners in a local, state, or federal prison was illegal under the CARES Act. A federal judge in California has now ruled that withholding the stimulus checks was against the law, and there was no legal basis for the IRS doing so, because the law never specifically barred people in prison from receiving the funds.

Under the judge's order, the IRS will now have to notify prisons of the change in policy, though the government already filed an appeal. In the meantime, there is limited time for incarcerated individuals to claim their stimulus money if they want to receive it before filing 2020 tax returns.

How to Receive the Stimulus

People who have not yet received their stimulus checks must go to the IRS website and fill out the non-filers tool by November 21. If online access is impossible, people who are in prison or their family members can fill out and mail a paper 1040 Form by October 30.

If you want to help a family member or loved one who is incarcerated claim their stimulus check, you can also check out the website for the plaintiffs in the class-action case to find additional resources.

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