Frequently Asked Questions About CARES Act Relief for Incarcerated People

JANUARY 4, 2021 UPDATE: If you have requested an EIP from the IRS but have not heard back, we are not going to be able to find information about the status of your claim. Instead, please call the IRS hotline at 1-800-919-9835. Please note that the IRS has confirmed that it did not process all claims filed in 2020. If you did not receive your EIP, it may be because the IRS did not process your claim in time. In that case, you must file a 2020 tax return to obtain your stimulus payment(s). Once instructions for doing so are available, we will post them.

Please be aware that the deadline and the entire process for how to get CARES Act relief funds was set by the government. The Equal Justice Society and Lieff Cabraser’s role was bringing a lawsuit to ensure that the government didn’t prevent incarcerated people and their families from participating in a benefit intended for all Americans.

Note: the IRS is unable to include SSN numbers with checks sent to claimants, so in order to be sure your check is properly allocated, please be sure to add your unique personal corrections number to the address listed on the claim form. See sample form here.

Eligible individuals can receive up to $1,200 per person, or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly, plus $500 per qualifying child. Your benefit is reduced by 5% of any income you earned in a qualifying tax year above $150,000 if you filed a joint return, $112,500 if you are the head of a household, or $75,000 otherwise.

According to the IRS, your children only qualify for a payment if they were age 16 or younger on December 31, 2019, and if they lived with you for more than half of 2019.

No. And the lawyers who brought the lawsuit are not asking for or taking any money from class members or their families.

You are eligible to file a claim if you satisfy all of the following requirements:

  • You are a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident
  • You are not married to someone who lacks a social security number, or have a child who lacks one, UNLESS you or your spouse served in the Armed Forces in 2019
  • You filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 or you were exempt from doing so because your income in 2019 was below $12,200 a year or, if married and filing jointly, below $24,400
  • You were not claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return

Yes, so long as you meet the other general eligibility requirements listed above in Question 4.

Update 10/10/20:  We are aware that IRS representatives have been giving conflicting information in response to this question. It has been reported widely that an IRS official advised California correctional authorities (CDCR) that families may file online for their loved ones inside. IRS separately advised counsel that it believes that all claims should be filed by claimants themselves, but despite our requests for clarification IRS has not disagreed that it told CDCR to encourage online filings. We think the IRS is making this unnecessarily confusing, and we will of course update this information if/when we are able. We recommend the use of paper claims, signed by the claimant, as the safest course of action where possible.

Prior:  So far, the IRS has rejected our requests to permit friends, family, or lawyers from signing claim forms for incarcerated people, even with documented power of attorney. We do not agree with this position, and think it is unfair and extremely burdensome. We will keep trying to make progress on this request, but in the meantime, please assume that claims must be signed and/or filed by the claimants themselves.

The IRS has set a deadline of November 4, 2020 to file a paper claim.  This means that claims must be postmarked by November 4.  If you have access to a computer, you may file electronically (online) on or by November 21.  Please see Question #9 below for more claims filing instructions.

If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return or receive Social Security Benefits or Railroad Retirement Board Benefits, you do not need to file a claim. However, if you did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return and your income was below $12,200 (or $24,400 if filing jointly) in 2019, then you should file an online claim through the IRS’s website.

NOTE that if you file online, the IRS requires that you answer line 9 of the form, in addition to other required lines. (An answer to line 9 is not required for paper submissions.)

If you cannot file a claim online, then you may file a claim on paper and through the mail by following the instructions here.

10a. Where do I mail my completed form?

The IRS has established a special address for the claims of incarcerated people:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Austin, TX 73301-0003

However, the IRS will still process claims sent to any of its five EIP claims addresses as listed below.

If you live in…...use this address
Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, VirginiaDepartment of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Kansas City, MO 64999-0002
Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, WyomingDepartment of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Ogden, UT 84201-0002
Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, TexasDepartment of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Austin, TX 73301-0002
Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington, WisconsinDepartment of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Fresno, CA 93888-0002

More information is available on the IRS website.

Yes. You are eligible for an advanced payment even if you had zero income in 2019.

The IRS does not currently have a mechanism in place to offer you an advanced refund if you did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return but were required to do so because your qualifying income was higher than the amounts above.  However, you may still be eligible for a CARES Act credit on your 2020 tax return.  You should consult a tax professional for further advice on whether to file a belated 2018 or 2019 tax return, but it is unclear whether doing so at this time will result in issuance of an advance refund to you.

Yes. Just leave blanks in the “refund” section (lines 20-22) on the claim form, which ask for routing and account numbers. The IRS has indicated it will mail checks to people without bank accounts.

Attorneys may file online claims for Economic Impact Payments through the IRS’s online non-filer tool using the same process for Form 1040s generally. To do so, an individual in prison must complete, sign, and mail a Form 2848 to the IRS, which can be downloaded here ( The IRS’s instructions for filling the form are available here (

For your reference, we have prepared an example that may be used as a guide (click to download) by attorneys who are not charging a preparation fee and are only assisting an individual with filing a refund claim. After an individual in prison has completed and mailed the form, you may then use the IRS’s online non-filer tool to file a refund claim on behalf of an incarcerated individual by the current deadline of November 21, 2020.”

Please check with your facility to understand its rules on how government tax refund checks will be distributed.

Read the text of the applicable regulation for California, 15 CA ADC § 3140.

In order to be sure that your check is applied correctly once it is sent to a correctional facility, you must add your unique correctional identification number to the line of your claim form that contains your last name. (Please be assured that if you listed your number on a different line of the claim form, IRS will transcribe it on the correct line before mailing.) Please use whatever shorthand is appropriate for your facility. For example, a correctional number for people in California state prisons is called a CDCR number, and it would be listed like this on your claim form:

John Smith   CDCR # 12345
Name of Prison, street or P.O. Box address
City, California zip code

NOTE: Some checks must be sent to a specific prison P.O. box or trust account that is different from your current address of residence. You are strongly advised to check with correctional authorities to make sure your payment will be properly deposited.

The court order directed the IRS to automatically re-process these claims by October 24, 2020. We expect that payments will be made on re-processed claims by November 13.

If you do not receive your check or direct deposit by November 13, 2020, please check the IRS website to view the status of your claim:

If you do not receive your payment by November 13, 2020, and do not see it scheduled on the IRS website, please let us know.

You will need:

Full name
Mailing address
Email address
Date of birth
Valid Social Security number (unless you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and are married to a military member)
Bank account and routing number (if you are seeking direct deposit into your own account rather than a check)
Your department of corrections (“CDCR” or “DOC” or “Prison”) number, to be added to your last name line (only if claimant is residing inside a correctional facility, to ensure check gets applied to the right person), so that your information reads:  John Smith #123456

For each qualifying child:

Social Security Number or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number
Relationship of child to you or your spouse

We have created 3 forms that may be useful for printing and sharing:

Update 1/4/21: If you have requested an EIP from the IRS but have not heard back, we are not going to be able to find information about the status of your claim. Instead, please call the IRS hotline at 1-800-919-9835. Please note that the IRS has confirmed that it did not process all claims filed in 2020. If you did not receive your EIP, it may be because the IRS did not process your claim in time. In that case, you must file a 2020 tax return to obtain your stimulus payment(s). Once instructions for doing so are available, we will post them.

Prior: If you filed a claim electronically through the online portal, you should receive an email from the IRS advising you when the claim is “approved”. The IRS has also set up a claim tracking system that attempts to provide information about the status of claims within 2 weeks of receiving a claim. IRS states that you can find out the status of your claim by going to:

Note: Although the status of online claims should be accessible through this website, the IRS has indicated that it might not post any online updates on the status of paper claims.

The IRS has advised that it is currently taking 4-6 weeks to process claims, from the time the claims “are approved” by the IRS. Please be advised that longer delays may be possible.

However, once a payment goes out, the IRS has indicated that it will let claimants know by letter that the payment was made: “For security reasons, the IRS plans to mail a letter about the economic impact payment to the taxpayer’s last known address within 15 days after the payment is paid. The letter will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive the payment. If a taxpayer is unsure they’re receiving a legitimate letter, the IRS urges taxpayers to visit first to protect against scam artists.”
Payment Eligibility & General Information (Q.A.4)

In the event that you receive a notice from the IRS that it sent you a payment but you did not receive it, you can also call the IRS help line at 800-919-9835 to speak with a live person about the issue. The IRS also provides a number of resource links at

Persons receiving checks inside correctional facilities may experience additional delays in receiving funds, or a reduction of funds depending on the rules of the facility. Please note that the IRS has indicated it, too, will divert payments when there are outstanding debts, such as unpaid child support.

You can report it to two government watchdogs (the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service) at the same time.  According to their published guidance, here is what to do:

Visit, the government’s one-stop resource for people to report identity theft and get a personal recovery plan. Click “Get started.” The next page asks, “Which statement best describes our situation?” Click the line that says, “Someone filed a Federal tax return – or claimed an economic stimulus payment – using my information.” You’re on your way. will ask you some questions so that it can complete an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) for you, and submit it electronically to the IRS. You can include a personal statement too, to tell the IRS details about how your identity was misused to claim your economic impact payment. You also can download a copy of your completed Affidavit for your files. And, also will give you a recovery plan with steps you can take to help protect yourself from further identity theft.

Use to report suspected identity theft only. If you have other concerns about your economic impact payment, visit the IRS’s Economic Impact Payment Information Center and Get My Payment Frequently Asked Questions pages for detailed, and frequently-updated, answers to questions. You also can find information here about payments that the IRS may have deposited to an account you don’t recognize.

Whether you’re waiting for your payment, or even if it’s already arrived, keep alert for scammers trying to steal your personal information, your money, or both. Remember, the IRS will not call, text you, email you, or contact you on social media asking for personal or bank account information – even related to the stimulus payments. Also, watch out for emails and texts with attachments or links claiming to have special information about the payments. They’re fake, and they may be phishing for your personal information or might download malware to your computer, tablet, or phone.

See “Did an ID Thief Steal Your Stimulus Payment?” for more information.

A “class action” or “class action lawsuit” is a lawsuit in which a few individuals (plaintiffs) file a law suit against a defendant to protect the interests of a larger group of similar people (the class) affected by the same actions of the defendant. In this case, the plaintiffs are Colin Scholl and Lisa Strawn.  The plaintiffs are representing themselves and a national class of incarcerated people who were illegally denied CARES Act (”stimulus”) payments by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on the basis of their incarcerated status. A victory in this case means that the IRS has to stop discriminating against people who are incarcerated and award them a CARES Act (“stimulus”) payment if the incarcerated person meets other basic eligibility requirements (described above, in these Frequently Asked Questions).

The eligibility requirements for CARES Act payments were established earlier this year by the United States Congress, and these requirements are not the subject of the lawsuit.  Likewise, the US government decided the methods through which payments would be made (by direct deposit into bank accounts or by checks mailed to the claimants), and those methods are not the subject of the lawsuit.  Finally, the case was filed against the IRS and Treasury Department challenging misconduct by those agencies, and the case is not against correctional authorities, meaning that the case does not affect correctional polices about mail or income received by people who are incarcerated.

A copy of the complaint is linked below.

About Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, is a 100-plus attorney AV-rated law firm founded in 1972 with offices in San Francisco, New York, Nashville, and Munich. Described by The American Lawyer as “one of the nation’s premier plaintiffs’ firms,” Lieff Cabraser has litigated some of the most important civil cases in the United States and assisted clients in recovering over $124 billion in verdicts and settlements.  In March of 2020, Benchmark Litigation named Lieff Cabraser its “California Plaintiff Firm of the Year.” Lieff Cabraser is committed to access to justice for all.

About The Equal Justice Society

The Equal Justice Society is transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Led by President Eva Paterson, its legal strategy aims to broaden conceptions of present-day discrimination to include unconscious and structural bias by using social science, structural analysis, and real-life experience. Currently, EJS targets its advocacy efforts on school discipline, special education, and the school-to-prison pipeline, race-conscious remedies, and inequities in the criminal justice system.