While some Americans grouse about the small direct payments coming from the federal government to help out with food and rent, the bill passed by Congress and on Sunday night signed by President Donald Trump, includes prisoners among those who will receive $600 payments within days. That’s a big help for prisoners to pay for sundry and personal care items and phone calls home.
The bill follows the prior CARES Act stimulus package in March, which contained up to $2,000 per eligible American, including prisoners. The CARES Act contained no prohibition on stimulus payments for inmates.
Congress started crafting the second round of stimulus in July, and at the front-end of negotiations, prisoners were excluded from the list of those eligible. But the exclusion language didn’t survive the final bill, a sign that it may have been a sticking point in negotiations.
Also included in the massive stimulus package is a measure that resumes Pell grants — a form of federal financial aid for students — for prisoners. In 1994, a crime bill that was sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden, banned Pell grants for inmates. Education grants can pay for training and education that prisoners need in order to return to society as functioning contributors. An extensive study by the RAND think tank in 2018 found those prisoners enrolled in classes have a 48 percent lower chance of recidivism.