Inmate sues Treasury Dept. for excluding convicts from $1,200 stimulus aid

By The Star Staff

An inmate in Puerto Rico’s prison system has filed a class action suit in San Juan Superior Court against the island Treasury Department and its secretary Francisco Parés Alicea to stop the agency from excluding incarcerated people from funding granted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Earlier this year President Trump signed the CARES Act into law, awarding $1,200 to eligible individuals and up to $2,400 to couples to help them face economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed class action suit, filed Oct. 30, would benefit some 8,900 inmates in local jails and 1,168 inmates held in the federal Metropolitan Detention Center who have yet to receive payments.

The plaintiff, Marcel Gabriel Rivera Kon-Kin, represented by his lawyer Diego H. Alcalá Laboy, wants the agency to comply with the guidelines already established in a federal class action suit filed on behalf of all persons jailed in mainland state and federal prisons.

In the federal case, Scholl v. Mnuchin, a U.S. Northern District of California court ruled that the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service illegally withheld the distribution of the CARES Act economic funds to thousands of prison inmates because of their conditions. The judge issued an injunction to stop the federal government from excluding inmates.

The local lawsuit demands that the Treasury Department correct the information published on the agency’s website to reflect that inmates can obtain CARES Act funds and the process that they must follow to receive them.

The suit also demands a mechanism to allow the prison population to obtain payment and to allow third parties to provide application information on behalf of inmates.

“The Treasury Secretary’s lack of action in this matter is of a high public interest and requires the immediate attention of the court,” the suit reads.

Rivera Kon-Kin is an inmate at the Bayamón 501 Correctional Institution. He has not been claimed as a dependent on any other Puerto Rico income tax return.

“He has not yet received the benefit of the Economic Impact Payment from the Puerto Rico Treasury Department,” the suit reads. “Mr. Rivera Kon-Kin needs this money as it would allow him to use it to financially assist family members who have suffered a significant decrease in their income as a result of the COVID19 pandemic.”

Judge Anthony Cuevas gave the Treasury Department until this week to answer the allegations.

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