A U.S. judge ruled the Internal Revenue Service can’t keep withholding coronavirus relief payments from prison inmates, possibly removing the hurdle for approximately 80,000 checks in the sum of more than $100 million to be sent to people in prison across the United States.

With her September decision, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton allowed the IRS until Oct. 24th to reconsider the payments for those who were denied or had their money held up because of incarceration. But for those in prison who didn’t file a tax return in 2018 or 2019, another deadline is coming — they have until Oct. 15 to send a written application for the relief checks, or they may not receive a check at all.

The legislation passed in March that authorized the payments of up to $1,200 per person during the pandemic doesn’t specifically exclude jail or prison inmates. Originally, The IRS and U.S. Treasury Department told corrections officials to intercept any checks that arrived at jails, prisons or detention facilities and return them to the United States Treasury.

It’s unclear exactly how many incarcerated people could qualify for the payments. There are approximately 1.5 million people behind bars in the U.S. Some are foreign nationals, some are claimed as a dependent on another person’s taxes, or don’t have Social Security numbers. Those individuals would not qualify for the checks.  Advocacy groups such as Prison Policy Initiative and Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project are moving quickly to inform incarcerated people about the deadline and to help them get applications.

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