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VERIFY: Do inmates in jails and prisons get COVID-19 stimulus checks?

Yes, inmates have received stimulus checks in the past and will likely be eligible for additional COVID-19 relief money if and when lawmakers agree on a next round.

INDIANAPOLIS — As Congress continues to focus on a massive stimulus proposal to provide more COVID-19 relief, there are more questions about whether people in prison will qualify for relief checks.

The question

David wrote to VERIFY to ask, “Is it true that prisoners in federal prisons have received stimulus checks?”

Other viewers have asked if prisoners will be included in the latest relief package or barred from getting the funding.

Our sources

The IRS, the Prison Policy Initiative and the North District of California’s U.S. District Court.

What we found

Yes, inmates have received stimulus checks in the past and will likely be eligible for additional COVID-19 relief money if and when lawmakers agree on the next round of coronavirus aid.

There are currently more than 2 million people in jails and prisons across the United States.

The IRS inspector general confirmed the federal agency did send stimulus checks to prisoners last spring. When Congress passed the CARES Act to authorize the stimulus, it included no restrictions on people in jail or prison getting that money.

“Because Congress did not exclude people in prison or jail, the IRS had no choice but to issue the payments to incarcerated people who otherwise qualified,” explained the Prison Policy Initiative as it analyzed this issue in December.

The IRS later changed its position saying prisoners do not qualify for relief checks and “a payment made to someone who is incarcerated should be returned to the IRS.”

Prisoners filed a class action lawsuit against the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Secretary, and a federal judge ruled in the inmates’ favor in September. The court ruling says the IRS cannot withhold coronavirus relief payments from individuals who are incarcerated, and the judge ordered the federal government to stop blocking the payments.

And when Congress passed the second stimulus in December, it again chose not to prohibit inmates from getting a $600 COVID-19 relief payment.

Some prisons and jails have put up roadblocks for prisoners trying to get their stimulus payments or withheld a portion of inmates’ stimulus payments, claiming the facilities are entitled to reimburse themselves for some of the costs of housing prisoners.

Prisoners who are eligible for COVID-19 relief and who did not receive their first or second stimulus payment can claim the stimulus as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return.

So is it true that prisoners in federal prisons have received stimulus checks? We can verify yes, that is true.

And if Congress passes a third stimulus, the legal groundwork seems set to help ensure eligible prisoners will continue to qualify for stimulus payments. Any legislative language to block inmates from receiving stimulus payments would likely be challenged in federal court.

Have something you’d like us to VERIFY? Send an email to VERIFY@wthr.com.