People who are incarcerated may now be eligible for stimulus checks. Here’s what’s happening – CNET

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A federal judge has ordered the IRS to issue stimulus checks to eligible people even if they’re incarcerated. 


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Since the IRS began issuing stimulus checks back in April, incarcerated people throughout the US have had to navigate confusing and often contradictory information about whether or not they could collect the money. First, the IRS sent money to people in jail and prison, then the agency asked for the money back (cached IRS website). On Oct. 19, a federal judge ruled that nothing in the CARES Act, which authorized stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per individual, prohibits payments to many of the 2.3 million people residing in US jails and prisons. The judge ordered the IRS to send the checks.

The results of the class-action lawsuit bring some clarity to the issue, but the IRS has already appealed the decision and requested an injunction against the current ruling, which could possibly upend things yet again down the road. For now, the IRS has extended the deadline for incarcerated individuals to request their stimulus checks until Nov. 21. However, with little to no internet access and unreliable means of communication with family and friends at home, filing that claim still presents some hurdles.

We’ll tell you what you need to know about how to notify the IRS about an incarcerated person’s eligibility, where to send the money and answer other questions you may have about stimulus checks being sent to those who are incarcerated. Here’s what we know about qualifications for the second stimulus check, where negotiations stand on a new stimulus bill and when a second stimulus check could arrive.

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The IRS had requested incarcerated people return any stimulus checks they received, but reversed course after a federal judge ruled against the agency.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Can people in jail or prison get a stimulus check?

Right now, the answer is yes, but that could change if a judge rules in favor of the IRS with regard to its appeal.

Who is eligible to receive the first check?

Anyone who’s eligible to receive a stimulus check is eligible to receive one even if they are incarcerated. Check our complete stimulus guide for more details.

How does someone who is incarcerated request a check?

The IRS says information can be provided using the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here online tool by Nov. 21, or you can file a 2019 simplified paper tax return following the instructions on the File a Simplified Paper Tax Return page. The deadline for filing a paper return is Nov. 4.

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Incarcerated people rarely if ever have access to the internet, yet IRS instructions for notifying the agency require it.


Angela Lang/CNET

Can someone else request a stimulus payment for the incarcerated person?

Most jails and prisons do not allow internet access to those incarcerated in them, so it seems improbable if not impossible that individuals themselves could follow the IRS’ instructions for providing information. The instructions on the IRS website don’t explicitly say that a representative friend or family member can notify the IRS regarding an incarcerated person, so the answer isn’t clear.

Can the IRS make you send a payment back?

According to tax experts who spoke to MarketWatch, the CARES Act did not include a “clawback” provision that would allow the IRS to force people who received stimulus checks in error to return those checks. So far, the IRS has not indicated there will be any kind of penalty for not sending back stimulus payments, although the agency does make its expectation clear and has a web page that details the process for returning stimulus payments. Either way, the question is moot so long as the current federal court order still stands.

The IRS also asks recipients to return checks for people who have recently died and people who received additional money in error, for example, if they received two payments instead of one, or are a citizen of another country that is not a US territory. For example, dozens of Austrian citizens reportedly received $1,200 bank transfers representing stimulus money, in error. 

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You can contact the IRS directly if you have more questions about receiving a stimulus check for an incarcerated individual. 


Angela Lang/CNET

What if the inmate’s spouse received a stimulus check?

If you received a stimulus check that included money intended for a spouse who is incarcerated (or was at the time) and you returned your spouse’s portion to the IRS, the exact path to getting a replacement check issued it’s totally clear. You could start by calling the IRS at the number listed in the letter sent along with paper stimulus checks, 800-919-9835, or the main IRS help number, 800-829-1040.

You could also look up your spouse’s information on the IRS’s Get My Payment tool and, depending on the information you get from there, try entering their information in the Non-Filers tool.

For more stimulus check information pertaining to your unique situation, check out our guides to stimulus checks and child support, stimulus checks for older adults and how to report a missing check to the IRS.