Key point: The stimulus checks have helped many Americans, but some policymakers do not like the idea of that money going to those in prison. Are state-level efforts to stop those payments the right call?
The $1,400 stimulus checks that are being distributed as part of the American Rescue Plan can lawfully be garnished by debt collectors, although members of Congress and state governments have taken steps to try to avoid such garnishments taking place. That was not allowed for the payments that went out as part of the CARES Act in 2020.
Now, there’s another push for garnishment of stimulus checks-for those of prisoners.
Everyone who’s an eligible American citizen gets a stimulus check, and that includes those who have been convicted of crimes. But a new report says prosecutors in one state are hoping to take those checks away from prisoners, and give the money to their victims.
According to WTVY, the Alabama Department of Corrections says that as of the start of April, 1,918 inmates in Alabama had received stimulus checks, totaling about $2.3 million. Since checks are different amounts, including $600, $1,200 and others, it appears that this includes stimulus payments from last year, and not only the American Rescue Plan checks.
One prosecutor is calling for the money to be taken from the prisoners and given to their victims.
“That money should automatically be seized and given to victims of crime. That money was given to individuals to stimulate the economy. They can’t stimulate the economy when they are in prison,” Ashley Rich, the district attorney of Mobile County, said, per WTVY.
Alabama’s state Attorney General, Steve Marshall, is also on board with the plan.
“We are beginning that process. We’ve worked with the department of corrections to freeze money,” Marshall said, per WTVY.
It’s unclear how exactly doing that would work, or if prosecutors, state attorneys general, or the courts have the power to seize money distributed as part of a federal program. It’s also unclear where the money would go after it’s taken from prisoners in which it’s not simple to ascertain who exactly was victimized by their crime.
“(Congress) did not write the bill in a way that would prohibit stimulus checks from going to prisoners,” Missouri State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer told the news outlet. “I think it’s fundamentally unfair, you know, for taxpayer dollars to be going to violent criminals. If it’s being given out at all, let’s make sure it’s going to victims where it’s much needed.”
Michigan has made a similar move to seize the checks for prisoners. According to the Detroit Free Press, there exists a state law that allows prosecutors to take up to 90 percent of a prisoner’s assets for “cost of care.” This has been used this year for stimulus checks in the cases of about 50 prisoners, the newspaper said.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.