With Congress on the precipice of passing a third round of coronavirus-related economic stimulus payments, many lies about the bill and what it includes have made the rounds on social media.
This fact check isn’t about a lie, however. Instead, it’s about a truthful statement, from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), regarding a surprising revelation over who is receiving payments.
It might be unusual for a fact check to include the answer to a question at the start of the article. But Cotton’s claims about the stimulus checks — most notably, who they might go to — lack important details, even if they are technically true…
The claim: checks will go to prisoners
Cotton made several tweets disparaging the stimulus bill over the past week, claiming that checks in the amount of $1,400 would go to incarcerated individuals. To drive home his point, he named specific high-profile convicted prisoners, including Dylan Roof and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as potential recipients.
“Dylann Roof murdered nine people. He’s on federal death row. He’ll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats’ ‘COVID relief’ bill,” Cotton wrote in one tweet.
Dylann Roof murdered nine people. He's on federal death row.
He'll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats' "COVID relief" bill.
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) March 6, 2021
He made a similar tweet regarding Tsarnaev.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, murdered three people and terrorized a city. He’ll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats’ ‘COVID relief’ bill,” Cotton said.
Notably, several right-wing news sites, including Newsmax, repeated Cotton’s comments, reporting on them but without giving much thought to the background behind Cotton’s claims…including the fact that prisoners receiving stimulus checks is a thing that has happened before.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW...
Cotton didn’t complain about Trump COVID checks to prisoners
To put Cotton’s complaints into perspective, we should remember, this is the third stimulus payment related to helping Americans who are struggling with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Two other payments happened before, and both times, checks were sent to prisoners.
In the first stimulus, which was called the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act, it wasn’t known at the time that that would happen. Cotton, like a majority of senators, voted in favor of the CARES Act.
After its passage, prisoners, arguing that they were owed the money by the IRS (which was handling the distribution of the payments) as “eligible individuals” by the strict reading of the law, made legal complaints seeking to receive the $1,200 made last April.
The IRS attempted to block inmates from receiving payments, but were denied the ability to do so after a federal court ruling in the fall of 2020 found that the agency was unauthorized, by the text of the law, from limiting incarcerated persons from receiving the payments.
Cotton could, perhaps, be forgiven for voting in favor of the CARES Act and not knowing that inmates would eventually get checks due to them. But when the second round of stimulus checks happened, he, once again, voted in favor of them — even though the language in the bill was not altered to discontinue payments to those in prison.
There isn’t any record of Cotton making complaints about the second stimulus package, whose checks were sent out (including to prisoners) in January, that he is now making about the third stimulus bill.
Should prisoners receive checks? Some say yes
Many who have heard Cotton’s complaints, or read articles about them, probably felt great anger about prisoners receiving stimulus funds. But there’s a compelling argument in favor of sending checks to these individuals.
USA Today opinion writer Suzette Hackney wrote a column in October describing why aid should be sent to those who are incarcerated.
“Folks in prison need money, too,” she wrote in her column. “During a pandemic there is even more of a demand for soap and extra hygiene products, which come with a hefty price tag from the commissary.”
Payments to inmates help others, too — including their family members, who are generally the ones trying to help their loved ones in prison get those needed supplies, as well as deal with their own hardships.
To deny prisoners these funds is an immoral action, Hackney argues:
Prison is supposed to encourage rehabilitation. Treating inmates, or their cash-strapped families, like they are invisible and undeserving is unacceptable. Their lives have been affected — and sometimes taken — because of the pandemic. It’s time to help them get their money.
Others have noted that sending funds to incarcerated individuals helps that population (of which there are more than 2 million in prison across the U.S.) feel connected to society in the long run.
“Many incarcerated individuals have never had more than a hundred dollars in their prison account before,” Christopher Blackwell, an incarcerated person in Washington State, wrote in an op-ed for Business Insider. “Grandiose ideas have begun to emerge amongst the population. Prisoners excited to support their families have talked of setting up stock market accounts for their children, paying delinquent bills for family members, or buying loved ones something nice for the upcoming holidays.”
Blackwell recognized in his opinion piece that “many are adamantly opposed to prisoners receiving such funds from the US government.”
“But let’s not forget,” he added, “that prisoners and their loved ones also belong to our society and have a right to seek relief. The majority of the money prisoners receive will be infused right where it belongs and is most needed: impoverished communities.”
It’s not clear whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or Dylann Roof specifically will receive economic aid from this current round of stimulus payment. But it IS true that inmates will receive stimulus funds, in general.
Whether someone believes incarcerated persons deserve stimulus funds or not is a matter of personal opinion. Sen. Tom Cotton certainly has voiced his belief that the aid set to go out to homes across the country shouldn’t be going to inmates.
But his passion for the subject is inconsistent and appears to be partisan. The Arkansas Republican is adamantly opposed to this round of stimulus, based largely on incarcerated persons being eligible for payments, but he didn’t express such indignation before. To put it bluntly: Cotton didn’t make complaints when it was a different administration, with an “R” behind its name, doing the same thing.
The statements Cotton has made are technically true — prisoners across the country will receive stimulus payments from this round of coronavirus aid. But it appears quite evident that the Republican senator’s complaints have more to do with the fact that Joe Biden is now president instead of Donald Trump.