Prison inmates and the April $1,200 stimulus checks

I do prison ministry in Texas, and one extremely hot topic these days is whether prison inmates qualify to receive the $1,200 stimulus checks sent out by the government half a year ago. For inmates, such a sum of money is immense beyond words in prison, and I have been asked to help out.

A California federal judge ruled, days ago, that inmates do qualify for the payments. However, most inmates don’t have Internet access or means to fill out forms. Am I committing some violation if I enter Social Security numbers or personal data on websites on their behalf? (as one has requested)

There seems to be instructions on this page:

Good for you for assisting prisoners! That’s truly very admirable. But for your question I’d recommend contacting a lawyer.

Here is a page with other instructions and a possible source of free help:

a while back prisoners ran a scheme to file fake tax returns and get real cash refunds. It took a few years for that to be shut down.

I don’t think a majority of people should be penalized for what a tiny minority of them do. The court has ruled that they should get the stimulus money(which has absolutely nothing to do with tax returns), therefore they should get them, right?

This was something else I’d been wondering - since these CARES Act stimulus checks are technically tax refunds given out in advance, how do inmates qualify since most of them earn little or no income while incarcerated? They would have paid no federal taxes from which to get a refund.

Is that really true. I file tax returns every year, but pay no taxes (foreign tax credits wipe them out). But my wife and I got a check for $2400 anyway.

Is that really true. I file tax returns every year, but pay no taxes (foreign tax credits wipe them out). But my wife and I got a check for $2400 anyway.

It’s not true, but a very common misconception. The CARES stimulus is implemented as an advance on a refundable tax credit for the 2020 tax year. It works like the EITC or child tax credit.

Is there precedent for this - for instance, when the Bush administration sent out $200/$300 stimulus checks over a decade ago, did prisoners get them too?

Right. For the people in the eligible tiers, the credit is independent of tax liablility.

Precedent? This isn’t a Supreme Court case. If the CARES Act says inmates don’t get stimulus checks then they don’t, if it’s written any other way then they do. It’s that simple.

This seems more like a request for legal advice, which should go in IMHO.

A refundable tax credit is basically a cash handout that’s administered through the tax system for convenience (administrative convenience and political convenience, since it makes programs like EITC look like tax cuts rather than welfare). It’s not actually a refund at all, in the sense of being your own money coming back to you.

Since non-incarcerated people received the stimulus as well, a prisoner would fall into the same bucket. My in-laws got incentive checks and they haven’t needed to file taxes in years.

Thanks for the responses all. I am going to do more research. Unfortunately these inmates are in a Catch-22; if they don’t fill out the forms they can’t get the checks, but they have no way to fill out the returns as of now. So I will see what I can do.

There’s no need to file a tax return, but there’s a different procedure for people who qualify for stimulus payments but won’t be filing a 2019 tax return.