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IRS Blocks Prisoners from CARES Stimulus Checks

The various laws merely state that anyone filing a federal income return in either 2018 or 2019, or receiving Social Security payments, is entitled to a $1,200  stimulus check.

In some instances, the IRS also is asking various state departments of corrections to not deliver these checks to prisoners, and is also seeking to “claw back” funds from checks already cashed, citing regulations that prevent the incarcerated from receiving federal Social Security payments.

However, the Social Security regulations clearly do not apply to these checks, and no new rules have gone into effect limiting the scope of the payments. The IRS has issued an “advisory” on its website, which lacks the force of law.

According to IRS spokesman Eric Smith, “I can’t give you the legal basis. All I can tell you is this is the language the Treasury and ourselves have been using. It’s just the same list as in the Social Security Act.” Nonetheless, there is clearly no law or administratively-promulgated rule that requires an incarcerated recipient to return the money.

One prisoner advocate,Wanda Bertram, of the Prison Policy Initiative, finds this all to be quite unfair to prisoners, many of whom rely upon their families to send them funds to purchase additional food and simple toiletries not provided by their prison, and who themselves might be economically stressed by the pandemic.

“Loved ones right now are also under a squeeze because of the pandemic and being out of a job, so when you send a stimulus check for someone, the person in prison is not the only one who benefits from that,” she said.

Unfortunately, prisoners generally lack the legal resources to prevent their prison mailroom from intercepting and returning these payments. However, many prisoners and their economically disadvantaged families have already received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that the IRS has no legal authority to recover, and most likely never will.

At press time, the Senate was debating another $1,200 check. Prisoners would be precluded.