"Within a week and one day, 350 people have called -- family members and people in prison," said Kerwin Pittman about the flood of state prison calling the hotline set up by Emancipate NC to spread the word that inmates do qualify for the coronavirus relief aid. Pittman partnering with Emancipate to connect with eligible prisoners.
"At the beginning, the IRS was trying to exclude people who were incarcerated. And so a judge said you can't exclude individuals solely off the basis that they're incarcerated," Pittman said. "(Incarcerated people) are still going through the pandemic and still feeling the ramifications and the effects."
The rush to beat the clock after a federal judge rules people in prison are entitled to the $1,200 stimulus checks approved as part of the federal coronavirus relief law.— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) October 29, 2020
AT 11 — #abc11 pic.twitter.com/jQ0vXOGE8s
The IRS abruptly stopped sending the payments to prisoners in May. Then, created a rule banning the payments; instructing anyone who received a check to return it. But, a California federal judge recently ruled that there's nothing in the COVID-19-relief bill barring incarcerated people from getting the checks and ordered the IRS to ensure those entitled to the cash have accurate information.
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Pittman and Emancipate NC are now pushing the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to help spread the word.
"We've been reaching out to their lawyers and saying, 'Hey a judge has said these individuals are able to get this, can y'all make sure they're getting this?', and, of course, we had pushback -- they're like, 'No.' until we showed them this is a real court order."
A spokesperson for NC DPS provided copies of flyers printed in English and Spanish, alerting prisoners of the new developments. DPS says the flyers are posted in prisons statewide.
DPS says the agency does not have a current tally of how many checks were sent back to the IRS.
"The returned checks are in the possession of the IRS. What happens with them from here is between the offenders, the courts and the IRS, not the Department of Public Safety," said John Bull, NCDPS spokesperson.
Pittman points out many of the people in prison come from impoverished households hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic - no longer able to send money to prison to help prisoners purchase necessities.
"You could use this (stimulus money) for deodorant, for lotion, for soap," Pittman said. "I can send this money to my kids who may be feeling the economic pain of this pandemic."
The deadline for inmates to fill out the federal 1040 form to receive the stimulus check is October 30. Family members can fill out the form for their loved ones. Emancipate NC will walk callers through the process at its hotline number, (919) 438-1833. Lines are open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.