BOISE, Idaho (AP) — People who had their coronavirus relief checks wrongly denied or seized because they were behind bars now have a few more days to apply to receive the money.
The Internal Revenue Service has extended the application deadline 15 days to Oct. 30 in response to a Sept. 24 ruling by a federal judge who said the payments couldn't be denied based solely on someone's incarceration status. That has prison officials scrambling to make sure incarcerated people know they can qualify for the funds.
The payments of up to $1,200 per person were authorized under a federal coronavirus relief package passed in March.
But several days after the legislation passed, the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS claimed jail and prison inmates weren't entitled to the money. The agencies directed prisons across the country to intercept and return the funds.
In Idaho earlier this year, the payments were taken away from 48 inmates and returned to the federal agency, said Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray.
Now, after receiving new instructions from the IRS late Thursday night, prison officials are working to help those inmates and others get access to the money again and notified them via the prison's inmate email system.
“The wardens of our facilities will follow up with residents during group meetings over the next couple of days,” Ray wrote in an email on Friday. “We'll be making the necessary forms available to residents.”
Inmates who need help filling out the forms will be given assistance, Ray said.
It’s not clear how many incarcerated people could qualify for the payments. There are roughly 1.5 million people behind bars in the U.S. But some are foreign nationals, are already claimed as dependents on other people's tax returns or don’t have Social Security numbers. They don’t qualify for the checks.
Incarcerated people who filed tax returns in 2018 or 2019 should, theoretically, have the payments sent to them automatically — assuming the federal agency has their correct address or bank information.
But many incarcerated people didn't make enough money in the past two years to file income tax returns — and they will likely be left out if they don't mail the application with a postmarked date on or before Oct. 30.
People can also apply online for the money until Nov. 21, but most incarcerated people don't have internet access, leaving mailed applications as their only option.