Stimulus Obstruction in Wisconsin Prisons

The IRS sent me and others a debit card instead of a check for our EIP 2 ($600) and the prison won’t process them or place the funds on our accounts. They require us to send the cards out and find another way to get the funds off them.

-Prisoner in the Wisconsin DOC

For anyone who is unaware, prisoners are not allowed to have credit/debit cards in their possession, so this is a particularly cruel act on the part of the IRS, who in collaboration with the DOC has made the stimulus program a nightmare for prisoners.

For some background, initially the IRS declared that prisoners were ineligible to receive the stimulus. They were still never eligible for the very first stimulus of $1200 that many people received back in April, 2020. When the government rolled out a second stimulus of $1200 in September 2020, Scholl v. Mnuchin, Case No. 20-cv-05309-PJH resulted in a win for prisoners—Phyllis J. Hamilton, United States District Judge from the 9th Circuit made clear that prisoners are not exempt from receiving this stimulus.

Three groups of people leapt into action:

  • Prisoners reached out to all their lifelines in hopes of getting their hands on this money.
  • Advocates mailed 1040s & instructions behind the walls en masse and filed online for as many people as possible.
  • And the DOC and IRS worked tirelessly to ensure they would steal as much of this money as possible.

This whole process has been a slow and inconsistent one at best. Some people filed as early as possible (end of September, 2020) and have still yet to receive even their first payment. While others who filed around that time received their stimulus money within a few weeks. In the beginning of January, the IRS said that anyone who had filed but not received the stimulus payment needed to re-file, causing even more confusion. Some people “received” the payment, but had most if not all of the money taken, so they were unaware that they had technically been paid out. Without a reliable source to check the status of a prisoner’s stimulus payment, many people have filed again—hoping they were just overlooked and that this will be the one that works.

This check was supposed to go entirely to the prisoners, unless they had back child support. The DOC was able to take advantage of a loophole and recoup back fees and other fines or charges levied against prisoners. I know two prisoners who had nearly half of their first stimulus taken, another only ended up receiving a dollar. These are all people who don’t have children.
In light of this, adjustments to the language of the bill have been made and the $600 stimulus will not be taken from people, as explained by a case clerk:

Specifically, Section 272(d)(1) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act provides that the IRS may not apply reductions or offsets under 31 U.S.C. Sections 3716 and 37201A or 26 U.S.C. § 6402, including for overdue state or federal taxes or child support. Additionally, Section 272(d)(2) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act provides that the second round of stimulus checks “shall not be transferable or assignable, at law or in equity, and no applicable payment shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law.” This means that this round of stimulus checks may not be garnished to cover overdue debts by federal or state prisons for any eligible individuals.

After closing these loopholes, the IRS—who didn’t want prisoners to get this money from the very beginning—and the DOC seemed to team up and come up with a new scam. Debit Cards.

For many, the $600 stimulus payment was sent in the form of a debit card, one that they are not allowed to have in their possession. They are presented with the card and asked who they would like the card to be sent to.

What happens next?

The person who receives the card will go online to transfer the funds from the card to the prisoner’s account. This will cost a fee to the service transferring the funds and then since this is no longer “stimulus” money, or it is indistinguishable from any other deposit to a prisoner’s account, the DOC can take their cut—upwards of 35%.

Is there any better explanation for this series of actions taken by the DOC and the IRS than that they simply want prisoners to have less than nothing? From the complicated filing process, to the fact that the DOC from the beginning insisted that their staff were “not allowed” to help prisoners file, to the miscommunications about where the completed 1040s were to be sent, and now this—debit cards. A final “fuck you” to the people in Wisconsin prisons.

The cruelty is the point, pure and simple.

The IRS has since released a memo and sent information to the prison officials, but the damage is done. Many people have already sent their debit cards out to loved ones or trusted advocates. The DOC will get their money from the prisoners, regardless of policy or practices put in place from outside.