Congress approved three rounds of stimulus payments for eligible Americans since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a measure that reportedly extended relief to certain incarcerated individuals.
Advocates for inmates’ rights claim that the direct checks can be used for alleviating the financial burden imposed by prison facilities, as several of them charge inmates for their stay. For example, in Ohio, daily average costs reached $35, and meanwhile, in Michigan, costs can be as much as $60 per day. And with an inmates’ hourly wage that ranges between 15 and 60 cents, incarcerated individuals are in need of the stimulus money.
“They're supposed to be able to claim their own stimulus checks. In other words, there is no restriction on who can receive stimulus checks, at least as far as incarcerated people are concerned,” Arthur Ago, the director of the Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told We Are Iowa, a local news network. “Now, the real question is practically and logistically, how does that happen, what's supposed to happen?”
Ago noted, however, that imprisoned people face a slew of hurdles to receive the direct aid due to lack of technological resources at prison facilities.
“For people who were not detained, it is easier to try to access your stimulus checks—to try to fill in the paperwork to receive your stimulus checks, which means just getting onto a computer, and assuming that you have a computer and internet access, getting on to that, and then signing in and asking the IRS to send you the check,” Ago said, adding that incarcerated individuals do not have easy access to the same resources, like computers.
That means jailed people can complete forms manually to obtain the stimulus payments, but even access to printing and understanding how to fill out the document is an uphill battle.
“The easiest thing would be someone on staff at every single field facility across the country, with a computer and a printer, and have people come in and say, ‘Okay, we're going to print this out and I'm going to show you how to fill out this form, it's not very hard,” Ago told the network.
But even if incarcerated individuals fill out the required paperwork to get the direct relief, they still may not be able to access the funds, according to experts.
Kelly M. Dermody, the managing partner at a law firm based in California, told We Are Iowa that authorities were able to remove funds for fees and restitution assumed by an inmate from the $1,200 stimulus payments that passed in the Cares Act last year.
And the second round of direct aid, which was approved in December 2020, the IRS mainly sent debit cards to jailed individuals, Dermody noted, making them useless for prisoners.
So to receive the money, incarcerated individuals have to complete and send in a 1040 tax return for 2020 asking for the recovery rebate.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and The Hill.