Rush’s Prison Phone Justice Act Passes House

May 15, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTONToday, U.S. Representatives Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) voted in support of the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), which includes critical support for frontline workers, along with direct payments to struggling families.  This critical relief package also included Rep. Rush’s Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, which ensures that families and incarcerated family members are able to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In particular, the bill bans commissions received by prisons and other confinement facilities from communications providers, which is the primary cause of increased rates incurred by inmates and their families. The Heroes Act passed the House 208-199.

“I am beyond pleased to see my bill, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, pass the House as part of the Heroes Act,” said Rep. Rush.  “This critical legislation will protect inmates and their families from unjust and unreasonable rates for their telephone and communications services, which is even more important as we see the number of COVID-19 cases explode inside prisons across the country.  Families should never be forced to choose between paying their bills and speaking with a loved one, especially during these tremendously difficult times.”

In addition to banning site commissions, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act caps intrastate and interstate phone services at four cents per minute for debit prepaid calling, and five cents per minute for collect calling.

“I am also delighted to see that the Heroes Act provides one trillion dollars in funding to state and local governments so they can continue to pay frontline workers the money they deserve, including hazard pay for those who have selflessly put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf,” added Rep. Rush.  “As Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, I was also proud to see that this bill provides relief to ensure that millions of Americans are able to keep their water running and their lights on during this pandemic, including $1.5 billion in additional funding for LIHEAP, the largest energy assistance program in the country.

“I was also pleased that key provisions designed to provide much needed assistance to black businesses were included in the Heroes Act,” Rep. Rush continued.  “For example, in the bill, the Small Business Administration would be required to set aside Paycheck Protection funding for lenders like Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Development Institutions, who more often have relationships with and lend to black businesses.  Furthermore, the Community Development Financial Institution Fund would receive $800 million specifically for minority-owned lenders to support small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and the underserved community.”

“At the same time, I am admittedly concerned that the provisions included in the Heroes Act — specifically, the contact tracing provisions – do not go far enough to protect African-Americans and other communities that are being most impacted by this virus.  However, I remain committed to working with leadership to strengthen these policies, which are fundamental to safely reopening the economy.” 

Earlier this month, Rep. Rush introduced his own bill, the COVID-19 TRACE Act, to fully mobilize coronavirus testing and contact tracing efforts through a $100 billion grant program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A one-page summary of the Heroes Act is available here.