Q: What concerns are you hearing from Iowans about tax filing season?
A: Tax filing season is notoriously a stressful time for households, farms and businesses to get their financial information, receipts and documents in order. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the federal agency charged with collecting taxes and implementing the nation’s tax laws. As a watchdog for the American taxpayer, I work tirelessly to hold the IRS accountable to the people it serves. Over the years, I’ve learned not to let up on the oversight leash. The political targeting scandal during the Obama administration gave the IRS a self-inflicted black eye. And in just the last year, new IRS missteps have undermined the public trust once again. Last summer, a trove of private taxpayer information was leaked and published by a news outlet. So far, the Biden administration has failed to root out the source of the massive leak and that puts sensitive data and taxpayer privacy at risk in the height of tax season. What’s more, the Biden administration pursued boneheaded proposals to mandate bank reporting information for deposits of $600 on individual Americans and use facial recognition software to verify taxpayer identities to access their online accounts with little notice to taxpayers or Congress. These examples of government overreach don’t endear taxpayers to the tax collector or improve voluntary compliance. My IRS Whistleblower law has bolstered fairness for law-abiding taxpayers and enabled the IRS to collect more than $6 billion from tax cheats. From my work to enact taxpayer protections, improve noncompliance and modernize IRS operations, I’ve found there’s always issues at the IRS to straighten out; the pandemic created even more. The taxpayer correspondence backlog has reached a crisis level. The current tax filing season comes at a time when the IRS is staring at nearly 24 million unprocessed returns and correspondence (including 14.5 million returns from the 2020 tax year) and about 89 percent of IRS customer service calls go unanswered. It also comes when many eligible taxpayers are eager to receive an unclaimed Child Tax Credit and Pandemic Recovery Rebate Credit.
At a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing I informed the National Taxpayer Advocate about another aggravating backlog. My office puts a high priority on helping Iowans navigate red tape with federal agencies, including the IRS. I wrote the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act to improve taxpayer protections and upgrade customer service. The law created a National Taxpayer Advocate with local taxpayer advocates in each state. However, in the last year, my office has hit one roadblock after the other trying to get answers for Iowans about the status of their tax returns. I’ve also called on the Biden administration to get its workforce back into the office to serve taxpayers. And if remote work is demonstrably effective, this bipartisan legislation would require federal agencies to recommend the termination of leases for underused spaces to the Administrator of General Services to save taxpayer dollars.
Q: Where can Iowans go for tax assistance?
A: The IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free tax return preparation for qualified individuals. For more than five decades, the VITA program offers free tax help for those who make $58,000 or less; individuals with disabilities; and limited English-speaking taxpayers. The TCE program focuses on retirement-related tax issues for retirees age 60 and older. Taxpayers may check here to know what to bring to their appointment. The majority of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. To find the location most convenient for you, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call (888)227-7669. For those eligible for free tax preparation services on more general tax issues, use the VITA Locator Tool to find the nearest location, generally found in community centers, schools, libraries or shopping malls. For Iowans who are looking for an opportunity to volunteer in either of these programs, you may learn more here. As a volunteer, you’ll be trained (online and in-person) to help serve neighbors in your local community. The hours are flexible and the commitment level is up to you. Even if you’re not a tax expert, you can receive needed training or serve a role that doesn’t need certification.