Over 1.4 million incarcerated Americans won economic relief late last year after CARES Act stimulus checks for inmates (which had been denied by the Trump administration despite congressional approval) were ruled as proper following a federal lawsuit brought by Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society. As The Washington Post reports, however, in the days before the approval of the latest coronavirus stimulus bill (which included another round of stimulus payments), many republican lawmakers pushed back on allowing the checks to be sent to prisoners.

Before the stimulus bill was passed, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) requested an amendment which would have denied stimulus checks to any person if the Treasury Secretary has knowledge that the individual has been imprisoned. Further, in the days surrounding the bill’s approval, another group of GOP lawmakers resorted to anti-immigrant fear-mongering and other scare tactics to try to dissuade the public from supporting the provision of checks to incarcerated Americans.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a main opponent of payments to prisoners, noted on Twitter that “This was a problem,” and that “Congress (or at least Republicans) did not intend to send prisoners serving life sentences stimulus checks as part of CARES.”

A spokesperson for Cotton stated that a federal judge last year paved the way for prisoners to get checks, after she blocked the Internal Revenue Service from implementing rules that would have blocked payments to incarcerated people, and that the new amendments were an attempt to fix an issue created by the judge’s ruling.

Notably, prison advocates say otherwise. “The two previous stimulus bills [CARES and the Consolidated Appropriations Act] had the exact same eligibility requirements as this bill, and Tom Cotton voted for both of them,” explained Lieff Cabraser partner Kelly Dermody, whose firm worked with the Equal Justice Society to bring forward the lawsuit on behalf of the 1.4 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons who had unjustly been denied their rightful payments.

“The judge’s ruling in our case merely pointed out that the IRS had acted wholly arbitrarily in applying its own eligibility criteria that were different from the clear eligibility language [approved by Tom Cotton] of the CARES legislation. The current bill is status quo, not different.”

Read the full article on The Washington Post website (subscription).

About Kelly M. Dermody

The Managing Partner of Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Kelly M. Dermody specializes in class and collective actions on behalf of plaintiffs in civil rights, employment, and consumer cases, including gender discrimination cases against Google and Goldman Sachs. Additional case work includes wage suppression claims against technology, healthcare, and academic institutions; overtime and lost pay lawsuits for low-wage workers, I/T professionals, and foreign nationals working for American corporations; and ERISA claims that she has tried on behalf of employees and retirees for pension plan abuses. In 2020, Kelly led the team that successfully challenged the Trump Administration’s improper withholding of CARES Act stimulus funds from incarcerated Americans, leading to the release and distribution of $1.5 billion in stimulus funds, in what may be the single largest recovery for a targeted class from a single lawsuit in history.

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