Menendez, Colleagues Express Concern Shutdown will Leave Taxpayers Needing Assistance Out in the Cold

Menendez, Colleagues Express Concern Shutdown will Leave Taxpayers Needing Assistance Out in the Cold

No one at IRS to help taxpayers navigate first filing season under new tax code

  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees U.S. tax policy, today joined Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and 14 other colleagues in raising concerns that taxpayers will face tremendous hardship in getting questions answered and issues addressed, especially given the recent changes to the tax code, should the shutdown continue into the filing season.

“The shutdown has closed every office of the Taxpayer Advocate Service across the country at a time when families and businesses are trying to determine the taxes that they owe and resolve disagreements with the IRS,” the senators wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  “Taxpayers should receive their refunds in a timely manner, but taxpayers should also receive the necessary assistance to ensure that they are filing their taxes correctly and that they have advocates working on their behalf.”

The senators asked Mnuchin to explain why the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which directly helps more than 200,000 taxpayers resolve tax and filing issues most years, was not considered an essential service during the government shutdown, and how the IRS plans to help taxpayers requiring assistance.  This is the first filing season since Republicans revamped the tax code to give huge tax breaks to the super-rich and the biggest corporations.

The letter to Secretary Mnuchin was also cosigned by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Mnuchin:

We write today to raise concerns about the impact of the government shutdown on services to taxpayers provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We are concerned that, if the shutdown continues into the filing season, taxpayers will face tremendous hardship in getting questions answered and issues addressed.

In order to help taxpayers navigate the complexities of the Internal Revenue Code, the IRS houses the Taxpayer Advocate Service. The Taxpayer Advocate Service assists both individuals and businesses with resolving tax and filing issues. However, the IRS website currently displays the following alert:

Please be aware that due to the lack of an approved federal budget, all Taxpayer Advocate Service offices across the country are closed. No staff will be available to assist you during this time.  Please check your local media for news about when our offices will reopen.

The shutdown has closed every office of the Taxpayer Advocate Service across the country at a time when families and businesses are trying to determine the taxes that they owe and resolve disagreements with the IRS.

The IRS’s lapsed appropriations contingency plan, which determines what functions the agency can perform during a shutdown, indicates that many functions related to taxpayer service will be unavailable until the shutdown ends. The contingency plan does not include call center services prior to filing season, when taxpayers may try to contact the IRS to get answers before the IRS is overwhelmed by filing-season calls. The shutdown has left taxpayers without vital services and without recourse.

Following media reports on the hardship that would be placed on taxpayers if the shutdown delayed the issuance of tax refunds, the IRS announced on January 7th that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had, at your request, reviewed the IRS proposed contingency plan. This review resulted in the reversal of longstanding OMB precedent that restricted certain agency activity. Taxpayers should receive their refunds in a timely manner, but taxpayers should also receive the necessary assistance to ensure that they are filing their taxes correctly and that they have advocates working on their behalf.

The shutdown is causing confusion and creating hardships for taxpayers going into the tax filing season, and these problems will quickly get worse if the shutdown continues into the filing season. The Administration’s decision to reject the unanimous Senate bill to fully fund the entire government, including the IRS, has hurt taxpayers. We therefore request the following:

  1. In the now expired contingency plan, please detail how the Department of Treasury decided that the Taxpayer Advocate Service should not be included in the contingency plan. In the new proposed contingency plan, will this decision stand or will the Taxpayer Advocate Service be asked to return during the filing season?
  1. Please provide a copy of the Department of the Treasury’s plan to assist taxpayers who are facing financial difficulties as a result of problems with filing their taxes or obtaining refunds in the event that a lapse in funding for the IRS continues into tax filing season.

We look forward to your prompt response so that we can better understand the reasoning behind these actions and ensure that taxpayers are protected and receiving full assistance from the Internal Revenue Service during tax filing season.