Free Write Community Navigators organize to help incarcerated folks get their stimulus checks

For many Americans, the $1200 stimulus payment issued this Spring was an essential lifeline during financially turbulent times. Although the CARES act did not exclude these payments for incarcerated folks (and some received them initially), in May the government systematically began withholding aid from the deceased and the incarcerated. This went on for five months, until finally in October a federal judge in California ruled that the government should not withhold those checks from people solely because they are incarcerated if they were otherwise eligible.

But with a short deadline to apply after this ruling, and lack of access to the information and application, our incarcerated students and colleagues encountered significant barriers to filing the paperwork necessary to receive their stimulus payment. To support them, members of Free Write staff and community navigators quickly got to work.

Free Write Community Navigators compiled a list of names of currently incarcerated people from their neighborhoods, families, and fellow Free Write students they stayed in contact with. The Community Navigators then printed and sent two copies of the paperwork and instructions (one for the recipient and one hand out to others or to make copies from) to each of the people on the list. The intention was to help the recipients apply, but also help spread the word to others inside, as the new ruling was poorly communicated to people inside, and in some cases, their mail pertaining to the stimulus payments was intercepted.

Angel Pantoja, Free Write Alumni Engagement Coordinator, who helped organize this effort, said there were many people he encountered that disagreed with the ruling to grant these payments to incarcerated people, “They won’t give [incarcerated] people the benefit of the doubt they deserve this money and will use it just like any other American.” This further motivated his efforts to organize our Community Navigators around this initiative.