Help people in prison get their stimulus checks!
People in prison have every right to receive their stimulus payments, because the CARES Act never precluded them from eligibility. But for most of last year, language on the IRS website misled people to believe they were disqualified, and instructed prison mailrooms to return all stimulus checks mailed to incarcerated people. Then a federal judge ruled in a class action on behalf of people who did not receive their stimulus checks because they are in prison.
The court ordered the IRS to:
- process applications for incarcerated people to receive economic relief under the CARES act,
- extend the deadline for paper filers,
- update its website to make it clear that people in prison are indeed eligible,
- notify prison officials of the change and provide all prisons with correct forms and sample forms, and
- mail individualized notices to every single known incarcerated person.
However, prisons did not have any legal obligation to facilitate the paper filing, and instead many obstructed the required forms being sent in and continued to spread misinformation. All over the country, grassroots organizations undertook efforts to get information about eligibility, as well as the forms necessary to file for the relief, into prisons. The volunteer-led pen pal organization Georgia Freedom Letters sent information packs with 1040 forms to over 1500 people incarcerated in Georgia, many of whom had no idea they were eligible for relief.
Most people imprisoned in Georgia work entirely for free. Their friends and family, struggling financially themselves during the pandemic, bear the burden of helping them pay inflated prices for food and necessities such as soap, not to mention the cost of communications, ever more crucial since visitation has been suspended for the past year. The stimulus, if they receive it, will be a huge help to them and their loved ones alike.
That is, whatever is left after the GDC takes a cut. The original 1200 Economic Impact Payment (EIP) allowed for state agencies such as correctional departments to recoup “debts,” including medical copays. The $600 EIP (EIP2) provided protections so that people would actually receive the entire amount- however, the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit affords no such protections.
Many people who correctly requested EIPs before the November deadline will now have to file a 2020 tax return by May 17 if they hope to receive their payments. The IRS effectively shut down in December, with thousands of claims left unprocessed, including many paper forms filed by people in prison. They instructed anyone who did not receive their EIP to file a 2020 tax return, applying on line 30 for a Recovery Rebate Credit in the amount they did not yet receive – effectively putting the burden back onto incarcerated people, and the people who love them, to receive their stimulus money.
Here is a 2020 1040, and a sample form, with instructions, below, that you can print and send to your incarcerated loved ones:
1) Request an IRS Form 1040 from your counselor or the business office (Prisons SHOULD provide these) or have someone print and mail you the form.
2) Fill out the top section (name, GDC number, social security number, address).
NOTE: If you have family or friends outside that you trust, you can have your check sent home to that address. That is perfectly fine and avoids some of the pitfalls of having the funds come to the prison. Obviously, if you don’t have someone you trust outside, then use your prison address.
3) Unless you had other outside income in 2020, leave lines 1 – 29 blank (you can put 0 on lines 11, 15, 16, 18, 22, and 24 if you want)
4) On line 30 “Recovery Rebate Credit,” put:
a. $1,800 if you have received neither of the stimulus checks [and you had no income in 2020 that you need to report to the IRS and you had no children living with you in 2020]
b. $600 if you received the first check, but not the second check
c. $1,200 if you received the second check, but not the first
5) Then repeat that same number ($1,800 or $600 or $1,200) on lines 32, 33, 34, and 35a.
6) If you have an outside bank account and want your check directly deposited, you can give that information on lines 35 b, c, and d (although doing so may allow others to see that information).
7) Sign and date the form (use ink, not pencil, throughout the form but especially here).
8) Mail to:
Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Kansas City, MO 64999-0002