The Coronavirus pandemic has left many Americans struggling financially, especially prison inmates and their families. A large measure of economic relief came to over 1.5 million incarcerated Americans late last year after CARES Act stimulus payments for inmates (which had previously been denied) were granted following a legal challenge brought by Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society. However, NPR reports that inmates across at least four states are unable to receive their second round of stimulus checks, because the IRS distributed them using debit cards which state prisons assert they are unable to process. Correctional officials have communicated the issue to the IRS, but it remains unclear what the agency is planning on doing, if anything, to fix it.
Lieff Cabraser partner Yaman Salahi, who led the class action lawsuit against the IRS on behalf of incarcerated persons nationwide, told NPR his office gets hundreds of calls and emails every week from incarcerated people around the country and their families who are having difficulties trying to secure federal stimulus payments.
“Incarcerated people are amongst the least-able to jump over all the hurdles and overcome all the barriers that have been placed in the way of trying to get these payments,” he said. “They are required to somehow obtain tax forms, which are usually not available in prisons, figure out how to fill them out without the assistance of professionals, mail them in, and then receive the payment.” Salahi said getting the payments into inmate bank accounts has been a significant challenge.
“This issue with debit cards is consistent with a pattern of the IRS failing to work with state correctional authorities to ensure that stimulus payments are reaching the people they are supposed to reach,” Salahi said. “We would hope that, given what happened with the first round of payments, they would have given more forethought to this and more attention to the issues that are unique to prison.”
About Yaman Salahi
A partner in Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Yaman Salahi’s practice focuses on confronting corporate and government misconduct and achieving a measure of justice for workers, consumers, and other marginalized and exploited populations. Yaman has prior experience at the ACLU of Southern California, Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, and clerking for the Honorable Edward M. Chen in the Northern District of California. He currently works on Lieff Cabraser’s antitrust cases related to “no poaching” agreements between employers that have the effect of suppressing worker salaries, and has also worked on the firm’s employment discrimination and wage and hour cases and other antitrust matters.
Yaman graduated from Yale Law School in 2012, where he participated in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic to defend Latino residents of East Haven, Connecticut from racial profiling by local law enforcement. At Yale, Yaman also studied Arabic on a Fields Language Study Fellowship, participated in the Middle East Legal Studies Seminar, and interned at the Urban Justice Center-Community Development Project in New York City and Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland.