Democrats urge IRS to start with lowest-income Americans in clearing tax return backlog

A logo of the Department of Veterans Affairs is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 3
Greg Nash

House Democrats are urging the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to begin eliminating its backlog of unaddressed returns starting with the lowest-income Americans, days after the Treasury Department warned that tax refunds and other services may be delayed this year because of “enormous challenges.”

In a Thursday letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said the lowest-income Americans are most in need of their refunds.

“We write with great urgency to request that you eliminate this backlog and do so by prioritizing those individuals with the lowest incomes—those individuals and families who, without their refunds, face eviction, food insecurity, or an inability to afford needed medications or treatments,” the lawmakers wrote.

Treasury Department officials told reporters during a phone call on Monday that they foresee a “frustrating season” for both taxpayers and tax preparers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, budget cuts previously made at the IRS and federal stimulus actions, according to The Washington Post.

The agency is also entering filing season with a massive backlog of unaddressed returns. The IRS revealed on Wednesday that, as of December, it had backlogs of six million unprocessed individual returns.

The lawmakers on Thursday said that while they recognize there are various factors driving the backlog, it is important that taxpayers receive their returns.

“We understand that much of the backlog is caused by the time-consuming nature of many of these cases and the agency’s resource constraints, but that does not negate the IRS’s responsibilities,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Taxpayers need their refunds, they need open and honest communication from their government, and they need compassion in these extraordinary times,” they added.

Connolly and Porter are specifically asking that the Rettig provide a member-level briefing before Jan. 31 on the agency’s plans to “process the tax filings of vulnerable individuals, families, and small businesses.”

The deadline for filing taxes this year is April 18, and the IRS will begin taking income tax returns on Jan. 24.

Rettig on Monday said planning the filing season process for the U.S. is “a massive undertaking,” noting that teams at the agency “have been working non-stop these past several months to prepare.”

“The pandemic continues to create challenges, but the IRS reminds people there are important steps they can take to help ensure their tax return and refund don’t face processing delays,” he added in a statement.

Rettig said filing electronically with direct deposit is “more important than ever this year.”

The IRS, when reached for comment Wednesday, referred The Hill to Rettig’s statement regarding the Taxpayer Advocate Report, in which the commissioner said the pandemic has “been a challenging period on many levels for taxpayers, tax professionals and the IRS.”

He said the agency is still “working through tax returns filed in 2021 and we have been unable to answer an unprecedented volume of telephone calls.”

“Simply put, in many areas we are unable to deliver the level and quality of service every American deserves. This is frustrating for taxpayers, for tax professionals, for IRS employees and for me. IRS employees want to do more, and we will continue in 2022 to do everything possible with the limited resources available to us,” he said.

“The pandemic brought on a new way of thinking about tax administration as well as the need to assume certain risks. And we will continue to look for ways to improve,” he added.

Updated: 7:15 p.m.

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