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Weekly Column: 2022 Tax Filing Season--A Frustrating Mess

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

As Idahoans file their annual tax returns, the 2022 tax filing season grows more troubled.  Currently, millions of Americans must file their tax returns, despite not having their last year’s tax returns even processed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the ability to reach the agency for help.  The IRS must use its existing authorities to immediately provide targeted, temporary relief to taxpayers and reduce backlogs.

The Senate Finance Committee, on which I serve as Ranking Member, is holding hearings about what needs to be done in order to process returns accurately and efficiently, and get refunds to taxpayers.  In 2021, just over one in ten Americans were able to reach the IRS by telephone, while more than 250 million calls to the IRS went unanswered.  Those who managed to get through spent more than 23 minutes on hold.  The IRS began this year’s tax filing season with a backlog of at least 18 million unprocessed tax returns and correspondence.  As of this writing, the backlog is now 23 million.     

There are other areas of deep concern, as many Americans await last year’s tax refunds and responses to correspondence they sent the IRS, often many months ago.  Alarmingly, many Americans have been subject to adverse IRS actions simply because the IRS has not opened and read its mail.  Others are receiving letters from the IRS with inaccurate information.  These problems are not proximately caused by lack of funding, as some argue.

Between fiscal years 2018 and 2021, for example, the IRS on average received nearly 99 percent of its requested appropriations, not including special appropriations such as nearly $3.2 billion in post-pandemic supplemental funds.  IRS leadership recently told members of the Finance Committee that many of this filing season’s issues stem from the pandemic.  The National Taxpayer Advocate, U.S. Government Accountability Office and others have identified other causal factors, like archaic IT, deprioritizing necessary upgrades and recent (and sometimes retroactive) tax law changes that degraded the IRS’s capacity at exactly the wrong time.  Some of my colleagues have seized on the frustrating filing season to call for an $80 billion funding boost for the IRS, yet most of that funding would focus on enforcement and the hiring of an army of new auditors, which would only make this filing season, and subsequent filing seasons, even worse.

Earlier this month, 29 of my fellow Republican senators and I sent a letter to Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig with actionable recommendations for immediate taxpayer relief.  The IRS has taken some of our advice, such as putting a temporary hold on some automated collection notices.  But, more can be done to support taxpayers, such as suspending balance-due notices; providing targeted tax penalty relief for taxpayers; delaying the collection process for filers until any active and pending penalty abatement requests have been processed; and providing transparent communication of the status of individual and business tax returns.  Steps like these would provide Idahoans with greater certainty and meaningful relief as we enter this year’s filing season. 

I continue to fight Democrats’ proposals to prioritize tax enforcement heavily over taxpayer services and IT modernization.  Such proposals would expand the power of the IRS when it is struggling to carry out its core mission of providing taxpayers with top quality service, helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities, and applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all.  The bottom line is American taxpayers have paid for and deserve an efficient and fair tax administrator.  Anything less diminishes the integrity of our voluntary tax system and is simply unacceptable.

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