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Southern Republican Senators Generate Publicity by Criticizing Third Pandemic Relief Bill For Giving Payments to Prisoners

by Matt Clarke 

No Republican senator voted to pass the very popular third pandemic economic impact relief bill that sent most Americans a $1,400 relief payment. Initially, they said that the economy was already recovering and did not need to be stimulated and that the $1.9 trillion bill would add too much to the deficit. Now a trio of senators from former Southern slave states have come up with a new criticism — the bill allows payments to be sent to prisoners.

This criticism first made the rounds on conservative talk radio before being picked up by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). He went on Fox News to call the Democrats “crazy” and “radical” for allowing checks to be sent to prisoners.

“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, murdered three people and terrorized a city,” tweeted Cotton. “He'll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats … Covid relief' bill.”

Less biased journalists soon pointed out that prisoners had already received two checks, one for $1,200 provided for by the CARES Act which was passed in March of 2019, and another for $600 provided for by another act passed in December 2019. Cotton supported both of those acts, which were passed by a Republican-controlled Senate and signed into law by Republican former President Donald Trump.

Nonetheless, Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn soon joined with Cotton in criticizing the inclusion of prisoners in the third economic impact relief act. Notably, Texas treats its prisoners like slaves—forcing them to labor without pay and thus forcing their families to send them money if they are to purchase even the most basic supplies like shampoo or an adequate amount of toilet paper or toothpaste.

Democrats could have claimed the inclusion of prisoners in the pandemic relief package was accidental or somehow unavoidable. Instead, they apparently listened to prisoners' advocates who explained why it was the right thing to do because prisoners were being released into a pandemic-ravaged economy and many of their families struggled to send them money for basic necessities.

“Providing stimulus funds to incarcerated people helps protect the health and wellbeing of those behind bars and provides relief to their loved ones at home,” said the Prison Policy Initiative.

By contrast, when Salon asked Cotton about the inclusion of prisoners in prior relief packages, he said the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) bad initially blocked sending prisoners checks until it was overruled by a federal court and Cotton was procedurally barred from making an amendment to the second relief bill. Unsaid was the fact that Republicans could have excluded prisoners in the original drafts of the legislation. The federal court merely stated that the IRS could not exclude prisoners when the act itself did not,

It would be difficult to determine who to exclude for being a prisoner should Congress wish to do so. There is only one Boston Bomber, but there are millions of prisoners in the nation's jails and prisons. Some are incarcerated for days, others for months, yet others for years, and a few for decades. Should a prisoner serving five days in jail for an unpaid traffic citation be excluded? How about a state prisoner doing a 90-day drug offense boot camp? The issue is far more complex than the trio of opportunistic senators



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