Prisoners to be eligible for $1,400 payments under latest COVID relief package

As a result of a federal court ruling, inmates were also eligible for payments under prior coronavirus relief legislation.

Updated: March 8, 2021 - 12:57pm

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The Senate recently approved the Democrats' $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package which includes $1,400 checks for eligible individuals, but some lawmakers are displeased that prisoners will also receive the monetary payments.

The package, which cleared the Senate on a party-line vote Saturday, must still be approved by the House prior to heading to President Biden's desk, but according to Fox News inmates will be able to receive the individual payments under the legislation, as they were under prior coronavirus relief bills that included $1,200 and $600 payments for eligible individuals.

"The IRS had tried to withhold stimulus checks from incarcerated individuals, but a court forced their hand to offer the checks in October," Fox reported. "There was nothing written in the previous two relief bills or the one passed Saturday against inmates receiving checks."

GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas offered an amendment to the current stimulus bill to bar federal and state prisoners from getting a payment, but the amendment failed on a tight 50-49 vote, according to Fox News. Cassidy's press release indicated that the proposal would have saved taxpayers about $1.9 billion.

"Prisoners have all their living and medical expenses paid for by the taxpayer," Cassidy said during remarks about the proposed amendment. "They don't pay taxes. They don't contribute to the tax base. They can't be unemployed. In other words, inmates are not economically impacted by COVID, and inmates cannot stimulate the economy. But under this bill, Democrats are giving prisoners, again sometimes incarcerated for heinous crimes, a $1,400 stimulus check."

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois argued against the amendment, saying that it would "cause harm to the families of incarcerated individuals." 

Noting that "moments ago the Democrats in this chamber just voted to send $1,400 stimulus checks to murderers, to rapists and child molesters incarcerated in prison," Cruz offered an amendment he said would deny stimulus payments to illegal aliens.

Durbin pushed back, claiming that the legislation does not allow undocumented individuals to receive payments. "Let me be clear: Undocumented immigrants do not have social security numbers," Durbin said. "And they do not qualify for stimulus relief checks, period.

"In the circumstance where there is a parent undocumented receivinective to g a check for the child, that's it. But no money [is] going to undocumented people under the American Rescue Plan." 

President Biden on Sunday issued an executive order to promote "voting access" that includes a directive to expand voter registration among federal prisoners. The order states in part: "The Attorney General shall establish procedures, consistent with applicable law, to provide educational materials related to voter registration and voting and, to the extent practicable, to facilitate voter registration, for all eligible individuals in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

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