IRS Sued After Excluding Prisoners from Stimulus Checks During Pandemic

Written by Angela Landes (News Writer)

After inmates across the country received conflicting information for months, Federal judge Phyllis J. Hamilton ruled in a class action lawsuit against the IRS that prisoners shall receive the $1,200 stimulus checks. Due to Covid-19, U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are independant and make less than $99,000 per year have qualified for a stimulus check, generally of $1,200. The CARES Act which guides the distribution of these checks does not exclude prison inmates, but the IRS has vacillated on the eligibility of prisoners for months, going as far as to requesting stimulus checks be sent back from many of the 85,000 prisoners who already received the money. The IRS in fact advised prison officials that prisoners seaking stimulus checks could be committing fraud, putting many prisoners in danger who were looking for this aid completely legally and with little information given to them. 

Colin Scholl and Lisa Strawn filed a class action lawsuit in August against the government, representing 1.5 million prisoners. Lisa Holder, a lawyer who worked on the case, says that it is¨very clear that the IRS is in the wrong […].¨ The plaintiffs won the case, resulting in the court ordering the IRS to correct misinformation on their website and to allow incarcerated people to apply for the stimulus checks.

The problem for prisoners now is an issue of accessibility. The most common way to apply for the stimulus checks is to use the online form, but the majority of prisons do not allow inmates access to the internet or a personal email account. Additionally, some prisons have had a policy of intercepting stimulus checks so that they are not delivered to prisoners. This is a problem exacerbated by the misinformation prisoners have been receiving, making it difficult for them to assert any of their rights regarding receiving the checks. ¨Lots of people in prison don’t get enough food to eat,¨ says an anonymous Santa Cruz High student who has close incarcerated relatives.¨Prisons often try to cut costs by having less nutritious and just less food, making it crucial for people’s mental and physical health to have outside help to have access to food. Not allowing inmates their stimulus checks puts hundreds of thousands of people at risk of malnourishment across the U.S, so it is a wonderful thing that the IRS is now told to follow the guidelines correctly.¨ Colin Scholl and Lisa Strawn hope that the success of their lawsuit will inspire others to work towards solving these issues, making the stimulus checks truly accessible to prisoners.

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