The residents of Potosi Correctional Center, Farmington Correctional Center and Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center will soon be receiving the same $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks that were distributed earlier this year by the federal government.
According to a press release distributed on Business Wire by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP out of San Francisco, on Oct. 14, Chief Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of the Northern District of California granted in part a motion for summary judgment against the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.
In the order, it was explained that “incarcerated individuals are not excludable as an 'eligible individual’ under the Act,” and that the IRS therefore acted contrary to law by withholding stimulus relief from them. The court also held that the government’s “policy of excluding incarcerated individuals from receiving [a CARES Act payment] solely on the basis of their incarcerated status is arbitrary and capricious.” The judgment applies to people incarcerated in state and federal prisons.
Missouri Rep. Mike Henderson, R-117th, sits on the Corrections and Public Institutions legislative committee and has looked into the matter. He already knew that residents of the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center’s SORTS (Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services) program were in line to receive the same $1,200 coronavirus checks most of the public had already received. Henderson said as he understood it, anyone who filed a tax return in 2018 and 2019 was in line to file for the stimulus.
"I don't think that was the intent of the federal stimulus package, but I think the feds had to put it together so hastily, they didn't consider factors like this," Henderson said. "I don't think stimulus money at all was supposed to go to prisoners. It was supposed to go to the hardworking men and women who needed it to keep a roof over their heads, not for prisoners whose room and board they're already paying for."
Missouri Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Karen Pojmann said the DOC does not manage federal Economic Impact Payment processes and procedures.
"We simply provide the appropriate information and forms to offenders and their families," she said. "Announcements and forms have been provided to offenders through computer tablets and facility libraries and have been sent to families and friends subscribing to the department’s e-mail list."
Yaman Salahi, a partner at Lieff Cabraser and one of the attorneys representing plaintiff Colin Scholl et. al., said the judge’s ruling was “a blessing.”
“The Court’s ruling confirms that government agencies cannot rewrite the laws passed by Congress at their whim,” said “It is a blessing for hundreds of thousands of families around the country who are struggling to get by. Their loved ones in prison may be separated from them, but they are not invisible.”
The Equal Justice Society also presented the case. EJS Legal Director Mona Tawatao said the COVID relief funds “will mean that incarcerated people, who are among those in our society most endangered and harmed by COVID, can purchase hygiene products and can pay for the services needed to communicate with their families at a time when fulfilling these most basic of human needs is most critical.”
The IRS was required to stop denying stimulus relief to inmates for reasons of incarceration, to re-issue payments that were previously retracted from them by Oct. 24, and to reconsider any claim for a refund check that was previously denied by the same date.
The government will be required to file a declaration by Nov. 9 indicating its compliance and including data about the number and amount of stimulus relief disbursed.
The attorneys believe Judge Hamilton’s order makes available $1,200 stimulus checks for up to 1.5 million people believed to be incarcerated in the United States. Based on a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report published earlier this year, this is expected to result in automatic payments to at least 84,000 people totaling $100 million dollars.
Other individuals who did not file 2018 or 2019 tax returns must take affirmative steps to submit claims by mail by Oct. 30 or, if filed online, by Nov. 21, to retrieve stimulus relief before the end of the year.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.