Stimulus checks from the IRS for incarcerated men and women across the country are experiencing delays, according to The Intercept. In addition, some state correctional systems levy heavy deductions against the checks before the incarcerated people receive their checks.
Last year, incarcerated people won a class-action lawsuit filed by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. The IRS had not been sending out checks to those incarcerated, and the lawsuit forces the IRS to send out those stimulus checks from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and issued $1,200 and $600 stimulus checks to qualified Americans.
“Our inference is the IRS just didn’t get to the paper claims that were filed certainly after the Oct. 15 postmark, but possibly even to claims that were filed before that date,” said Kelly Dermody, a partner at the law firm that brought the lawsuit. “We’ve heard from just tons of people who, you know, are in a state of panic because their cellmate got paid (but) they didn’t get paid.”
Michael Upton and Ed Mansoll, San Quentin cellmates, are just two of many people who fall into that category.
“I received the $1,200, but the $600 was sent via debit card, so CDCR sent it back to the IRS,” said Upton. “My cellmate, however, has not received anything, and we both filed our claims on the very same day.”
Mansoll added, “I have refiled. I even sent a separate letter to the IRS explaining to them that I had not received my stimulus money nor any correspondence informing me why I have not gotten the money, a debit card, or anything else.
“You would think that because you’re dealing with government agencies, they would at least inform you of something.”
The IRS sent $600 debit cards to prisoners, including those in San Quentin. San Quentin prison officials informed those who received debit cards that they could not process them and the cards were sent back to the IRS.
“I feel CDCR failed to take proper action in accepting debit card payments to prisoners,” said Upton. “If the canteen can debit your account, there’s no reason as to why the accounting office can’t credit our accounts with the debit cards.”
Mansoll added, “There have been just too many incompetencies from the top down. There’s just no rhyme or reason.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down most prison industries and programs, just like businesses on the outside, which leaves some incarcerated people without making any income—even though most prison wages in California start at 8 cents an hour.
“The money would help greatly, not having to put a strain on my family, because they’re already financially strained due to the COVID pandemic and they still have bills to pay,” said Terry Mackey, San Quentin resident
Katrina Brown, incarcerated at the California Institution for Women, told The Intercept, “I have no one supporting me. I would have been able to order food so I could feed myself the proper way. I would use the money for my hygiene and food.”
Brown has yet to receive any of the stimulus money as well, reported The Intercept.
Even as Congress included language that protects prisoners’ stimulus checks from federal and state debt collections, California and other state prison systems still took some form of restitution or fees from the checks, as much as 25-50%. California takes 50% and tacks on an additional 5% for administrative costs.
Only the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported that it had not garnished any prisoners’ money from the CARES Act checks, according to The Intercept.
Representative Danny K. Davis, D-Illinois, who sits on House Ways and Means Committee, said “(that is) beyond the pale” if some prison systems are taking away the stimulus check that is meant to benefit the individual, The Intercept states.
Even the Congressional Black Caucus weighed in when the IRS first made the decision to withhold stimulus checks from incarcerated people, saying that withholding them “disproportionately discriminates against African Americans,” reported The Intercept.
“I don’t know what the Department of Corrections or the Department of Justice has to do with prisoners getting their money when it’s the IRS’s job in getting them to us,” said Vincent “Doc” Godfrey, SQ resident. “But now I can say this — as far as the IRS sending out those debit cards and the institution receiving them, they should allow us prisoners to decide what we want them to do with them. Where is our option of sending them home if we want to?”