Reps. Pressley, Davis to Bureau of Prisons: Stop Impeding Stimulus Payments for People Who Are Incarcerated

October 29, 2020
Press Release
BOP May Be Defying Court Ruling Allowing Prisoners to Access Stimulus Checks

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congressman Danny Davis (IL-07) sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) expressing concerns regarding reports that BOP officials may be preventing access to economic impact payments (EIPs) for people who are incarcerated. The lawmakers’ letter follows a recent federal judge ruling allowing those in prison to apply for government stimulus checks under the CARES Act. 

“Whether intentional or unintended, any action to undermine, delay, or infringe upon the rights of our neighbors behind the wall will not be tolerated,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal. “It is critical that BOP works expeditiously to clear all barriers in the path of people seeking to receive their EIPs.”

Earlier this year, prisoners were prevented from accessing EIPs after flawed guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) led prisons and jails to intercept payments for inmates and return them to the IRS. The Congressional Black Caucus had led in efforts to urge the IRS to reverse this guidance and sent letters to the agency on July 7 and once again on October 5. On October 19, a federal court ruled against the IRS and the agency updated its website and guidance to reflect the decision. However, the lack of clear, concise and actionable information and resources from BOP continues to be a barrier for individuals who are incarcerated and their families to receive the relief they are entitled to.

In their letter, Congresswoman Pressley and Congressman Davis cited reports indicating that BOP officials may be actively preventing people from learning about and obtaining EIPs. According to the report, BOP in one instance banned a newsletter to nearly 11,000 people that discussed accessing economic relief, while a second email on the same topic to more than 6,700 people was also barred from delivery. BOP justified its actions by claiming the information was “detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the facility, or might facilitate criminal activity.” 

“This explanation is fallacious and unacceptable,” the lawmakers continued. “It is absolutely critical that BOP does all it can to ensure EIPs reach individuals in its custody. To deny aid to people who are suffering is flagrant cruelty. And in this case, it is also illegal and contrary to Congressional action and judicial rulings.”

The lawmakers asked BOP to answer a series of questions regarding the agency’s reported efforts to impede access to stimulus payments for those who are incarcerated by November 6, 2020.

Congresswoman Pressley has been a vocal and tireless advocate for those behind the wall before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Earlier this year, she and Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote to President Trump calling on him to adopt and release decarceral guidelines to reduce the population of people in federal custody in the midst of the pandemic.
  2. In June, she and Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) introduced the landmark Dismantle Mass Incarceration for Public Health Act, which would require the release of eligible individuals who are currently incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and for one year after. 
  3. In August, she and Senator Warren led their colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 In Corrections Data Transparency Act, legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state and local correctional facilities to collect and publicly report detailed data about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.

 

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