Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package
A group of Senate Democrats are pushing to include a provision in the next coronavirus relief package that would provide access to free phone and video calls for people incarcerated in federal prisons.
The lawmakers point out that despite the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s regulations on interstate prison calls, which account for about 20 percent of calls made by federal prisoners, telecommunications providers can still charge up to $25 for fifteen minutes for the remaining 80 percent of calls.
“Regular communication with loved ones has consistently proven to help incarcerated people succeed in reentering the workforce after their release, and allowing them to stay connected will benefit them and their communities in the short and long term,” the senators wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The lawmakers noted that it’s unclear when in-person visitations will be able to take place at prisons, which have been hot spots for the coronavirus. The economic crisis, in turn, means prisoners could potentially go months without speaking to their families.
“As it remains unclear when effective treatment or a vaccine will be available, ensuring that incarcerated people can stay connected with their loved ones while in-person visits are suspended is critical—but we must also support solutions to help keep families connected after the pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote.
The group includes Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent, also signed onto the letter.
Lawmakers remain far apart in negotiations for the next coronavirus stimulus package.
House Democrats passed a new stimulus package — the $3 trillion HEROES Act— at the end of May, but Senate Republicans didn’t introduce a proposal of their own until two weeks ago, when the chamber returned from recess.
The $1 trillion Republican proposal has divided the party as some members argue that passing another stimulus package while an estimated $1 trillion from previous relief packages has yet to be spent is irresponsible.
McConnell said on Thursday that the Senate will technically be in session next week but signaled he’s allowing senators to leave Washington, D.C., until an agreement is reached on the package.